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Women's Football The pinnacle of the English calendar

ADAM MILLINGTON takes a look ahead to Sunday's FA Cup final

WEMBLEY awaits for Arsenal and Chelsea as they battle to take the FA Cup on Sunday evening in front of a crowd of around 50,000.

Last year’s competition has rolled over to this season due to Covid-19 halting play for amateur teams last season. The trophy will find itself a new home after Manchester City — who won it the two years prior — were knocked out in the last round.

Not only will this year provide a fine footballing spectacle, it is the FA Cup’s 50th instalment and 100 years since women’s football was banned in England.

There is no better way to celebrate the game’s progress than two of the nation’s best teams putting on a display in front of a bumper crowd and live on the BBC.

The captains from the first game, Southampton’s Lesley Lloyd and Stewarton Thistle’s Elsie Cook, will be there to present the trophy.

It is difficult to not underestimate just how much the women’s game has grown since those two were playing — few in the 1970s would have ever envisaged that the game would be at the level it is today.

The crowd, too, will likely be historic. When City and Everton took to Wembley’s hallowed turf last winter, the magnitude of the event could not truly be celebrated, with the stands barren and crowd noise being pumped in on the live broadcast.

It felt more like a friendly than a cup final, and attempting to create the competitive feeling which these occasions usually bring about was a tall order.

When Gareth Taylor’s side lifted the trophy, the pyrotechnics in the ground were the only things which made it look like the game was any more than a training match.

But Sunday could not be more different. Since the teams were finalised, ticket sales have skyrocketed, and it looks like a record attendance may be recorded.

This is usually the biggest game in the women’s calendar, and despite omicron resulting in some added restrictions in the country, it is a sign of a return to normality.

On the pitch, it is the Women’s Super League’s top two who will be playing, and the quality of the game will undoubtedly be high.

The two met earlier in the season at Ashburton Grove and, with the advantage of the larger pitch and increased attendance, treated viewers to a match on the opening weekend which started the season in the perfect manner.

It was the Gunners who were the victors that time around, and they are yet to lose in the league.

Arsenal faltered last season, with Joe Montemurro seemingly having taken his side as far as he could and with them only managing to clinch the final European spot late into the season, but Jonas Eidevall has overseen a transformational change.

The Swedish coach has brought with him clever tactics, but he has also employed a system which gets the best out of the players at his disposal.

Vivianne Miedema is back, firing on all cylinders. Beth Mead has excelled and a resurgent Jordan Nobbs has been key in the midfield.

Prior to the international break, Arsenal were without key signing Mana Iwabuchi, but if she is able to return on Sunday then they could set the pitch alight.

Under Eidevall, they are now one of the English game’s most exciting sides, and fun in front of goal is to be expected.

Despite them being top of the league, the cup is well and truly up for grabs.

Chelsea lost at Ashburton Grove after a goal from Mead which should have been offside, and since then they have had a 100 per cent record in the league, winning every game they have played and beating the likes of City and Manchester United by wide margins.

Emma Hayes is a mastermind, and above all else she knows how to win. During her spell with Chelsea she has already won the FA Cup twice and the experienced coach will be looking to add a third to the Kingsmeadow trophy cabinet.

The blues, too, will pose threats in front of goal. Fran Kirby may not have found herself in many awards shortlists recently, but she more than deserved a space in them, and the forward is one of the league’s greatest.

The FA Cup is the pinnacle of the English calendar, and despite it having dropped somewhat in its standing in the men’s game, this is bound to be one of the finest games of the season for anybody who watches.

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