After all the twists and turns in the Women’s Super League title race this season, just one point separates the top two going into the final round.
Defending champions Chelsea, chasing a third consecutive title, trailed Arsenal for most of the campaign but go into their last match holding the advantage.
The Blues host Manchester United on Sunday (12:00 BST), while at the same time second-placed Arsenal wrap up their WSL campaign at West Ham.
Chelsea manager Emma Hayes, in her 10th year at the club, has seen it all before. She is up against Gunners boss Jonas Eidevall, who is in his first season in the WSL.
While the battle between the clubs has been intense, the clashes between the managers have added spice to the title race. Here we look at the growing rivalry between the pair.
Knee slides, purring and digs
Eidevall made a memorable entrance in the WSL. After claiming an impressive 3-2 victory over Chelsea in his first match in charge, he celebrated wildly on the touchline.
Those celebrations at Emirates Stadium didn’t go unnoticed. Former England goalkeeper Rachel Finnis-Brown described it as an “almost knee-slide” and suggested it sparked the rivalry between the two managers, because it appeared to be in the direction of his counterpart.
“I think that flame was lit on the first day of this season,” she said this week. “I’m not sure that that has been digested yet by Emma Hayes. But what a way to start his career in the WSL with Arsenal.”
The next encounter between the teams saw Chelsea triumph in the delayed FA Cup final 3-0, and the Blues manager could not resist a dig in her post-match comments.
She said her side were “purring” after the win – but that came after Eidevall had revealed before the match that he was superstitious about black cats. “Everything about us… we just purred from start to finish,” she said.
Eidevall landed a blow of his own recently when he suggested Chelsea had rearranged fixtures in January to avoid playing without star striker Sam Kerr while she was away at the Asian Cup.
The Blues requested their match against Tottenham was rescheduled because of Covid cases and injuries, while their game against Everton was postponed at the request of the Toffees.
“I am very disappointed with the lack of transparency in the reasons behind postponing games and how long they take to reschedule,” the Arsenal boss said at the time. Hayes simply responded by saying: “I don’t care.”
And while the two teams have been billed as rivals this campaign because of the WSL title race, Hayes has downplayed it. “Playing against Arsenal as Chelsea manager is always a great game for us,” she said. “But it has never been our rival game. Manchester City has always been that.
“This is a London derby so it’s slightly different. There’s a lot more fan involvement, press interest, but I’ve always thought the bigger game was us versus Manchester City over the years.”
The sides have met four times this season, with Chelsea claiming two victories compared with Arsenal’s one. Both of those wins came in the FA Cup, however, with Arsenal having the upper hand in the league, claiming four points from those fixtures.
|5 September 2021||Arsenal 3-2 Chelsea||Women’s Super League|
|5 December 2021||Arsenal 0-3 Chelsea (at Wembley)||20-21 FA Cup final|
|11 February 2022||Chelsea 0-0 Arsenal||Women’s Super League|
|17 April 2022||Arsenal 0-2 Chelsea||21-22 FA Cup semi-final|
How does their title experience compare?
Hayes may have won five WSL titles, but this is not the first time her side have let it go down to the wire.
In 2014, Chelsea lost out on their first-ever title to Liverpool on goal difference on the last day of the campaign, having held a three-point cushion over the Merseyside club going into the final match.
But Hayes, who won Fifa coach of the year in January, learnt from that blow and took revenge in 2015, denying Manchester City the title by beating Sunderland 4-0, holding on to their two-point advantage and lifting their first WSL trophy.
Since 2015 Hayes has gone on to win a further four titles, while Eidevall is gunning for his first – an impressive feat for his debut season in England.
And he does have pedigree in winning championships, having guided FC Rosengard to three Swedish league titles between 2013 and 2019 and a Swedish Cup in 2018.
Whose season has been more successful?
Chelsea failed to come close to matching last season’s achievement of reaching the Champions League final, exiting in the group stages after a 4-0 capitulation at Wolfsburg.
They also lost out on their third consecutive Continental League Cup trophy to Manchester City.
The Blues had a number of postponed matches when their squad – or their opponents’ – was decimated by Covid. That gave Arsenal the opportunity to stretch their lead at the top of the league, while it clogged up the Blues’ schedule in the latter stages of their season.
Eidevall’s side took the honour of being the last British side remaining in the Champions League by reaching the quarter-finals, although they made a meek exit at that stage to Wolfsburg. They were also knocked out of the League Cup in the last eight by Manchester United.
Both sides have had lapses in concentration in otherwise rampant league campaigns – Chelsea’s shock defeat came at Reading while the Gunners lost to bottom side Birmingham.
Whichever manager misses out on the title may look back on those dropped points as the defining point of the season.
But, with Arsenal announcing on Friday that Eidevall’s contract will be extended until 2024, both managers – and fans – can look forward to the duo resuming their rivalry next season.
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