Full time with Jessy Parker Humphreys: Man City end Arsenal's cup hopes, Ramirez saves Chelsea
Welcome to Full Time, The Athletic’s women’s football column, a one-stop shop every Monday to discuss the big issues in the game in the UK and Europe.
This weekend, the Women’s Super League (WSL) stepped aside for the Women’s FA Cup fifth-round fixtures.
There were huge clashes — Arsenal hosted Manchester City at Meadow Park — and close calls, with Women’s Championship side Crystal Palace keeping FA Cup holders Chelsea fighting until the very end…
City’s 1-0 win over Arsenal could prove to be a key part of this season, as Gareth Taylor’s City side showed a grit and determination in their play that has not always been present.
City had to dig deep before and after defender Laia Aleixandri scored the only goal of the match (her second of the season) in the 74th minute, with their 19-year-old goalkeeper Khiara Keating putting in a world-class display at the ground where, four months previously, her error — misjudging the bounce of a ball played in behind — handed the Gunners all three points in the league.
There were few clear-cut chances for either side. In the first half, City looked more dangerous but failed to press Arsenal with play breaking down in wide areas. Arsenal striker Alessia Russo looked isolated and the Gunners continued to drop further back as the half went on.
In the second half, Arsenal stepped up but full-back Steph Catley’s failure to clear a free kick allowed Aleixandri to pounce.
Arsenal have lacked luck in FA Cup draws — they left the competition at the same stage last year after losing 2-0 to Chelsea — but the pressure will grow on manager Jonas Eidevall. After being knocked out of the UEFA Women’s Champions League (UWCL) qualifying stages in September, they’re now fighting on only two fronts.
But their 2-1 loss away to West Ham last weekend, resulting in a six-point gap behind leaders Chelsea, put the league title further out of reach. The Continental Cup looks like their most realistic chance of silverware this season.
“We are very disappointed,” Eidevall said after the City loss. “There are small margins. Our job now is to control what we can. We have two really important games before the international break. I can’t allow myself to grieve and stay in that mode for very long. I need to see what we were doing well today so we can take that forward.”
For Taylor, the result demonstrated the experience his side was able to draw on.
“When you work with the same group of players for a number of times, I’m constantly repeating the messages ‘Trust the process’. We were going for it and stood up well. We had moments of good fortune which went our way. The players were class today.”
Taylor revealed that his side had been working with Carlos Vicens and Jack Wilson, the men’s first-team assistant coach and set-piece analyst respectively, to improve their offensive and defensive set pieces. Before Aleixandri’s goal, City forward Bunny Shaw had two headed opportunities: the first saved by Arsenal’s second-choice goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo and the second, cleared off the line by captain Leah Williamson.
City’s confidence will be boosted ahead of their trip to Kingsmeadow to face Chelsea in a top-of-the-table clash on Friday.
“We want to win the league,” City captain Alex Greenwood told the BBC post-match. “I’m not afraid to say it any more: I want to beat Chelsea.”
What you might have missed…
The Midlands derby between Leicester City and Birmingham City proved to be a high-quality goal fest as the two teams traded blows in the first half before Leicester pulled away from their lower-league opposition.
Impressive finishes from Leicester striker Shannon O’Brien (two) and Birmingham striker Libby Smith saw the match at 3-2 at half-time, but Leicester accelerated in the second half to a comfortable 6-2 win.
Leicester defender Saori Takarada, a January signing from top-tier Swedish side Linkopings, showed moments of quality with an assist for Leicester’s first goal: a sublime pass to defender Janice Cayman.
With a lot of new players joining the club, it has taken time for Leicester manager Willie Kirk’s squad to come together. But they are finally clicking.
Goal of the week
Championship side Crystal Palace made five-time FA Cup winners Chelsea dig deep for a quarter-final place. Third-place Palace are three points off the top of their league with a game on Charlton, who are top. But despite having scored 13 more goals than any other team (39) in the second division this season, it was their defensive capabilities that shone against the WSL leaders.
Chelsea played a full-strength starting XI. Colombia international Mayra Ramirez — their record-breaking January signing — scored her first goal for the club with an incredible back-heel flick.
MAYRA RAMIREZ THAT IS WORLD CLASS 🤯
— Adobe Women’s FA Cup (@AdobeWFACup) February 11, 2024
To have the confidence to attempt a finish such as that when your team is desperate for a goal is one thing; to have the technique to pull it off is another. Perhaps Colombia, who did not call the striker up for the Women’s Gold Cup later this month, have been left regretting their decision.
Player of the week
With time ticking down, it looked as if third-tier side Wolverhampton Wanderers were going to force Brighton & Hove Albion to extra time. Wolves equalised from a Beth Merrick penalty in the 67th minute and then kept the Seagulls at bay until the 88th minute.
In a twist of fate, the person who gave the penalty away, defender Emma Kullberg, stole the show. The Sweden international scored an eight-minute hat-trick, exploiting the space a tiring Wolves had left, to help Brighton win 4-1. They were her first three goals for the club.
Moment of the week
There were plenty of storylines between Championship side Charlton Athletic and Tottenham Hotspur as Charlton manager Karen Hills headed to Brisbane Road to face the club she had led to the WSL in 2019, with the team she is hoping to do the same with.
To fit this narrative, it was a former Charlton player who got Tottenham over the line. Forward Kit Graham’s long-range effort in the 76th minute squirmed under Charlton goalkeeper Jessica Gray who saw the shot late.
Graham scored 122 goals during her 14 years at Charlton. Despite the loss, Charlton will be heartened by a performance which saw them go toe-to-toe with WSL opposition, limiting them to just one shot on target. Unfortunately, that was all that was needed for Spurs to score.
This weekend was one of resurgence in La Liga F.
The Women’s FA Cup quarter-final draw will be made on Monday evening, with the Lionesses squad announcement to follow on Tuesday morning.
Arsenal face Championship side London City Lionesses on Wednesday to play their delayed Continental Cup quarter-final fixture, before a big weekend of WSL fixtures sees both Manchester clubs head to London, with City playing Chelsea and Manchester United taking on Arsenal.
(Top photo: Eddie Keogh – The FA via Getty Images)