This Saturday, Arsenal Ladies will attempt to win their 14th FA Women’s Cup title when they take on Chelsea Ladies at Wembley Stadium. The weight of history is with the Gunners, with 13 FA Cups to Chelsea’s one. But Chelsea are the current holders, the current league champions and have enjoyed an unbeaten start to the WSL season.
For Arsenal, it has been a different story. After an exciting transfer window, where marquee players such as Fara Williams, Jodie Taylor and Asisat Oshoala were procured, the girls are still acclimatising to one another, having lost two and drawn one of their opening 5 league games. “We’re still building, trying to gel,” admits England and Arsenal striker Danielle Carter, “we know it will have to happen sooner or later. But we know we’re slight underdogs for the final,” before chirpily adding, “which is very rare for Arsenal Ladies!”
Carter turns 23 next week, but this will be the fifth FA Cup Final she has taken part in, emphasising the Gunners’ pedigree in the competition. However, it will be the first one that the club has ever played at Wembley Stadium. “It’s a dream come true to play at Wembley,” Dani beams, “Definitely one to tick off of the bucket list. Some of the England girls played there last year and some for Team GB in the Olympics, but to play there for Arsenal is a dream come true. We just hope we can lift the trophy at the end.”
Dani, nicknamed ‘Welbz’ by her teammates (a moniker she earned before Welbeck joined Arsenal), has enjoyed a whirlwind twelve months. A coruscating attacker, Carter’s strength and pace is utilised both through the middle and in the wide positions (hence the nickname!) She has nailed down the right sided attacking slot in the Gunners team, but admits to harbouring ambitions of playing through the middle in the future.
“My ambition is to be a centre forward, that’s where I made my debut for England,” Carter modestly omits the fact that she notched a hat trick in said debut, “I have been playing in the number 7 spot and I will play where I am told, it’s good for my development out there. But in the long term, I would like to play as a 9. There’s lots to come from me, but there’s lots of work to do.”
Carter was nominated for the PFA Women’s Young Player of the Year this year and recently signed a new contract with the club, having joined from Leyton Orient’s Girls Centre of Excellence as a teenager, “I have been here for seven years now and I have seen the club transition, there have been ups and downs. But we have a great setup at the club. It’s massive that we have our own space at the training ground now.”
The WSL is a small world for the players and there is a good deal of familiarity between the two sides in this final. Chelsea, who beat Arsenal 2-0 at Boreham Wood in April, feature a grand total of seven ex-Arsenal players in their squad. There are many friendships across the two teams, but Carter insists that few pleasantries will be exchanged in the build up to the match, “There are no friends in football!” she jokes, “We’ve got a lot of friends at Chelsea but we’re all very professional and we are solely focused on getting down to business at Wembley, maybe afterwards we can all be friends again….”
Dani explains that Arsenal’s match preparation will revolve around getting their game right, “We will look at Chelsea’s threats, we know they have a lot of top class players that can cause damage. But mainly we want to focus on ourselves and our game, to concentrate on showing our strengths. This week we will mainly look at ourselves and our own roles and responsibilities.”
Whilst Chelsea are indeed favourites, there is little to choose between the teams in terms of individual quality. The Blues have greater cohesion, but Arsenal have plenty of match winners and a special history in the competition. The Gunners provided a glimpse of their potential in the semi-finals, where they crushed Sunderland (who finished 4th in last season’s WSL) 7-0, despite playing the majority of the match with ten players.
Carter helped herself to two goals in that game, but puts the crushing victory down to Sunderland chasing the match in the closing stages, “We struggled early on in the match,” she admits. The score was only 2-0 with eighteen minutes to play, with Sunderland reduced to ten players themselves on 55 minutes. “Sunderland had to open up and attack in the last 15 minutes and it just came together for us. Once one goal went in we had the confidence to score with every attack.”
The 5th preceding rounds saw considerably tenser affairs, with Arsenal eliminating Birmingham City and Notts County respectively on penalties. Carter converted her penalty in the West Midlands, but saw her spot kick saved by England keeper Carly Telford in the quarter-final showdown against Notts.
Dani says she would have no compunction about stepping up at Wembley if it came to a shootout again. “Yes I would definitely put myself forward,” she asserts without a moment’s hesitation, “I know I missed against Notts County but that’s penalties sometimes, I would step up again and I would be confident.”
It’s that confidence that has served Carter, a 22 year-old veteran of 3 FA Cups, 4 WSL Continental Cups and 2 league titles, so well in her career. “I knew that I wanted to be a footballer when I was about 8, playing football in the playground with the boys,” she reminisces, “That was the pinnacle for me, playing with and being better than the boys,” before adding, “Winning a cup at Wembley might top that though!”
The Final takes place at Wembley Stadium on Saturday, kicking off at 2pm. At time of writing, over 30,000 tickets have been sold.
Tickets are available here – £15 for adults, £5 concessions and children under 6 can enter free of charge. There are discounts available for group bookings too. The match will be shown live in England on BBC One and we will have a liveblog from Wembley on Arseblog too!