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What this Conti Cup means for Arsenal

The emotions around this year’s Conti Cup final, with Frida Maanum’s collapse during injury time, and then the coming together between Jonas Eidevall and Emma Hayes, certainly ran high. While Maanum’s collapse was a tragic, unfortunate accident, and she thankfully appears to be alright, the incident between Eidevall, Hayes, and Erin Cuthbert perhaps highlights what this season’s Conti Cup meant to Jonas Eidevall, with the Conti Cup representing the only realistic trophy for Arsenal this season.
It was not supposed to be this way. A year ago, winning the Conti Cup was a springboard for Arsenal, who then went on to beat Bayern Munich over two legs in the Champions League, and after being knocked off course after the devastating injuries to Beth Mead and Vivianne Miedema, were slowly getting back on track. Further devastating injuries, to Leah Williamson and Laura Wienroither, but also badly timed hamstring injuries to Kim Little and Caitlin Foord, put the Champions League beyond reach, but finishing in the Champions League places and a summer of strong recruitment was supposed to herald Arsenal pushing on.
If anything, that was the first false dawn of the season. Arsenal went out of qualifying for the Champions League in the first round, drawing 3-3 with Paris FC, before losing on penalties. The struggle for consistency would continue, as Arsenal lost to Liverpool on the opening day of the season. After recovering their position with wins over Manchester City and then beating Chelsea 4-1 at the Emirates, Arsenal would then lose 1-0 to Spurs, and then 2-1 to West Ham, which was the penultimate nail in the coffin for Arsenal’s title hopes, before the disastrous loss at Chelsea two and a half weeks ago.
Winning the Conti Cup, then, was the only way Arsenal could add gloss to its season, and for that reason, it took on heightened importance for Eidevall. And, having won, it’s worth savouring, both because only a certain number of teams can win trophies, and because it’s only the 4th time Arsenal have won a trophy in the last 8 seasons. Arsenal have won trophies in back to back seasons only twice since 2016: they did it under Joe Montemurro, when they won the Conti Cup in 2017-2018 and the league in 2018-19, and now this season. Furthermore, establishing a culture of winning trophies is important, and ensuring that the baseline expectation is that Arsenal win something makes the overall standard higher.
However, in beating Chelsea, we didn’t actually learn anything new about Arsenal. Last year, when Arsenal won the Conti Cup, it was the first trophy for this group of players under this manager. But Arsenal’s ability in big games was already established. In all competitions this season, Arsenal have beaten won three of the five games against Chelsea and Manchester City; it is games against low blocks that have seen Arsenal falter. In that sense, how Arsenal perform in four of the final five games of the WSL season will have more of a bearing on next season than the Conti Cup final.
That, however, should not be taken as a dismissal of winning the trophy. Winning the trophy will continue to create buy-in for the players. It is something that some of Arsenal’s players, such as Alessia Russo, have not done at club level. And finally, it is an important reward for the fans who have created such a positive and loud environment at Arsenal matches up and down the country. Throughout the season, Eidevall and the players have spoken of the importance of the fanbase, and that could be seen on Sunday, as the fans rallied behind the team in extra time. As Manu Zinsberger said, going into the stands post-match, this trophy is for the fans too. Arsenal’s fans have set the global standard in women’s football for what an engaged and passionate fanbase looks and sounds like, and it is a culture that is sustained by winning and celebrating.
With this the last meeting against Hayes’ Chelsea, the Conti Cup needs to serve as a marker of a new era for Eidevall’s Arsenal. Having been off the pace in the league for the last two seasons, that can’t be allowed to happen again in a season’s time. At that point, even a trophy win won’t be enough to meet the standards that Arsenal are setting off the pitch.

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