Mead backs Arsenal to overcome Chelsea in Conti Cup final

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Beth Mead has said she believes Arsenal can bounce back from their defeat to Chelsea in the Women’s Super League (WSL) earlier in the month and retain the Conti Cup when they face the same opponents in the final on Sunday.

The two teams have one of the longest-running rivalries in women’s football and their meeting at Molineux is a repeat of last year’s Conti Cup final, in which Arsenal strode to a 3-1 victory over Emma Hayes’ side at Selhurst Park.

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In the league, Arsenal handed Chelsea their biggest league loss in five years in December with an emphatic 4-1 victory at the Emirates Stadium. However, Chelsea outclassed the North London side in the return fixture to win 3-1.

“We’ve both punished each other this season,” Mead said ahead of the final. “We did it in the home, like they did it in their home leg, and probably both teams didn’t quite turn up.

“It is going to be a game of which team turns up best, which tactics come off best for each team. As a team and individuals, it is on us to get that right but as well, the managers will try to outsmart each other, and they have both done that against each other this season.”

The Conti Cup represents Arsenal’s last chance to clinch a trophy this season after being knocked out of the Champions League in September and the FA Cup last month. Their hopes for the title are also on thin ice — Jonas Eidevall’s side are six points adrift of leaders Chelsea and second-place Manchester City, who are level on points.

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Meanwhile, Chelsea remain on track for a domestic treble and are through to the semifinal of the Champions League after defeating Ajax 4-1 on aggregate in the quarterfinal.

With this being Hayes’ last season at Stamford Bridge before taking up her new role as manager of the USWNT, Mead believes it will be a highly contested match-up.

“The [final] is going to be wide open,” Mead continued. “I think even as a player, you back yourself and you back your team. But ultimately, it’s a team that gets it tactically right and turns up on the day.

“We’re very disappointed with [the loss to Chelsea]. But looking forward to the Conti Cup, we’ve got a lot of learnings to take into that game, and hopefully we can use them to our advantage. We are trying to learn from the process and holding ourselves accountable and we need to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

Mead suffered an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury in November 2022, leaving her sidelined for 11 months. After claiming the Golden Boot during England’s win at the 2022 Euros, she was ruled out of the 2023 World Cup in Australia, where the Lionesses reached the final.

The 28-year-old, who missed a majority of last season as she rehabbed her injury, didn’t feature in last year’s final where Arsenal claimed their first piece of silverware since the WSL title in 2019 and first trophy under Eidevall.

She marked her comeback in Arsenal’s 2-1 victory against Aston Villa in Oct. 2023. However, the 28-year-old acknowledged that not being part of Arsenal’s on-field triumphs last season has fueled her determination to finish the year on a high note.

Despite initially showing promise by turning out key results against their top rivals Chelsea, Man City, and Manchester United, Eidevall’s side have struggled to maintain momentum, resulting in a choppy season marked by dips in form and inconsistent performances.

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“There’s a lot of reasons and factors in football as to why things don’t work,” Mead said. “I think firstly, as individuals and a team, we’ve always held ourselves accountable, and we want to be the best version of ourselves. And that’s not always the case; it’s not always that easy. System changes, personnel changes — it’s all factors that are hard.

“I constantly try to speak in meetings and say that we need to be better at bringing each of our strengths out on the pitch, but it’s increasingly changing. You’ve tried to get a rhythm on one person, then it changes, and this and another player comes back. It’s tougher than just being on the pitch and it just clicking like that.

“We’ve got a bunch of amazing players that can do amazing things on the pitch, but it’s now knitting it all together. I think at times this season we probably struggled with that. We’ve got to find a good balance and be more consistent in changes of system and personnel and try and click it together a bit quicker.”

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