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The Women’s Super League title is heading back to Chelsea – and it still feels safe to declare that, even as Manchester United forced the race to the final day in dramatic fashion. A triumphant, crowning victory over rivals Arsenal moved the leaders to the verge of completing another double, and a fourth consecutive WSL title, on the day where Magdalena Eriksson bid an emotional goodbye to Kingsmeadow. The captain’s goal moved Chelsea one game away to adding another trophy to this era of dominance under Emma Hayes.
United’s last-gasp win over rivals Manchester City later in the day may only delay the inevitable, and Marc Skinner’s side still require a spectacular collapse from Chelsea away to bottom-club Reading next weekend. Chelsea have offered no hint of that in recent weeks. The champions were emphatic in brushing a resilient Arsenal team aside, as they have been since a 2-0 defeat to Manchester City in late March. What was a four-way fight for the title two months ago has been comprehensively closed out by Chelsea, winning six in a row by an aggregate score of 22-1.
This was an afternoon at Kingsmeadow to crown an era, fittingly encapsulated by Eriksson sealing Chelsea’s win on the week the captain announced she would be leaving after six successful seasons. Eriksson’s 12th goal for the club all but secured a 12th major trophy with Chelsea. Pernille Harder, who will also be departing at the end of the season, pushed desperately for her moment, driving the club on and setting the standards that have fuelled this trophy-winning machine. The pair were honoured in a post-game presentation, with Eriksson’s transformative impact on the club recognised by Hayes.
“She deserves it,” Hayes said. “Magda has been so pivotal to our success. For her to get that moment in her final home game, in front of the fans she loves, nothing will mean more to her. Everybody wanted that fairytale for her. She has been our captain and leader. I know the work that has gone on behind the scenes to get the team to where it is.” Eriksson will depart after what may be Chelsea’s most dominant season: should they beat Reading to seal the title next week, Chelsea will break the record for the most points in a WSL campaign, all while winning the FA Cup for a third straight season as well.
Eriksson scored an emotional send-off goal
Arsenal had their chances in an entertaining, open contest – but Chelsea were devastating at times, with Harder linking up with Sam Kerr, Guro Reiten and Lauren James as Hayes abandoned the caution she usually prefers in this fixture. Arsenal could have been blown away, but Jonas Eidevall’s side had opportunities to change the game. Katie McCabe’s penalty miss in the second half was the moment their hopes finally slipped away. The Gunners were still, on paper, in the title hunt, but City’s defeat at least secured third place and Champions League qualification.
Arsenal never stopped pushing for a way back, but this also summed up their season of what-ifs. Had it not been for all those injuries, Arsenal could have taken the title fight to Chelsea, but the champions always seemed to have this under control. They swarmed and smothered Arsenal in the early stages, threatening with a flurry of movement and range of options. Kerr and Harder stretched Arsenal and probed with clever runs in behind, Reiten had the quality to find them, and Sophie Ingle and Erin Cuthbert pushed high, never giving the visitors a moment.
Yet it also created a game that was more open than Hayes would have liked. Chelsea, too, were stretched and at times susceptible. Caitlin Foord and Stina Blackstenius roamed as split-strikers and Arsenal found the space to release them. Ann-Katrin Berger was forced into the first of several saves as Foord pounced on Eve Perisset and played in Blackstenius, who was denied as she looked to poke a finish back across goal from a closing angle. Arsenal could have led, and then could have equalised. Frida Maanum’s shot was spilled onto the crossbar by Berger, who then had to be sharp to beat Foord to a through ball.
Arsenal captain McCabe missed from the spot
(The FA via Getty Images)
But Chelsea, by then, were in front. It had been coming, even as Chelsea took risks in an end-to-end contest, but the breakthrough arrived as the hosts pulled Arsenal out of shape, the Gunners unable to clear the initial free-kick or get back into position. From there, Perisset slipped as she clipped a cross to the back post, Reiten slid as she arrived and steered the finish past Manuela Zinsberger. The second was similar: this time Reiten’s floated ball to the back post found Kerr – who nodded across for Eriksson, who turned in the finish under Zinsberger and was greeted with a send-off moment to blow kisses to the crowd.
The game felt won then, the title too as Chelsea finally hit the front coming into the home straight. This has also been a season where Chelsea have played catch-up for most of the campaign. This was a side who were beaten on the opening day of the season, by promoted Liverpool, and who then had to hunt down United after falling games behind due to their Champions League commitments. It perhaps obscured the nature of Chelsea’s dominance, but the picture is clear now with the season all but over.
Harder came close to adding a third but was denied by Zinsberger and then McCabe, who headed off the line. But Arsenal responded: the excellent Foord struck the bar with a flick from Victoria Pelova’s cross, before McCabe’s awful miss from the penalty spot. It killed Arsenal’s belief and for the first time since February 2021, Chelsea could celebrate a league victory over their rivals and Eidevall. That too felt fitting – Chelsea this season have left no doubt. United will be only too aware of that.