On Sunday, Arsenal became the seventh team to book their place in this year’s Women’s FA Cup quarter-finals, claiming a comfortable 2-0 win against a Lewes side who certainly put up a good fight, but couldn’t quite pull off the upset.
Originally scheduled for last weekend but moved due to the onslaught of Storm Dennis, the tie was one which Lewes were certainly relishing. However, despite a relentless and disciplined defensive performance, in the end it was too tough a test for The Rookettes, as Arsenal turned things up a gear after the break, finding that bit of quality needed to get the breakthrough. It was an outcome that most fans probably expected, a full-time team against a part-time one, but against the backdrop of Lewes’ valiant campaign to raise awareness about the FA Cup’s vast gender prize-gap, the fixture was undoubtedly about more than just the result.
With next weekend’s FA Women’s Continental League Cup final in mind, Joe Montemurro did not shy away from making changes with Leah Williamson, Lisa Evans, Vivianne Miedema and Katie McCabe all dropping to the bench. Jordan Nobbs captained the side following the announcement that Kim Little had undergone surgery on her foot last week and Arsenal were also without fellow midfielder Lia Walti due to a hamstring injury picked up in training. Academy prospects Ruby Grant and Melissa Filis came into the starting line-up along with new signing, Australian international forward Caitlin Foord.
For what was Lewes’ first game since their league defeat to Leicester City at the start of February, manager Simon Parker made two changes. Chloe Winchester and Ellie Leek came into the starting line-up, replacing Jess King and Paula Howells, the latter having been forced off in the first half against Leicester City due to injury. Sophie Harris, an ex-Arsenal academy player, made her second start in goal for The Rookettes following her loan move from Brighton & Hove Albion in January.
With high winds rattling around Meadow Park, it was a slow start to the tie for both sides as they looked to navigate the less than ideal conditions. As expected, Arsenal soon found their rhythm, spending much of the half patiently passing the ball around and controlling possession with ease.
Their first chance fell to teenager Ruby Grant in the fourth minute but her slow, dipping shot from outside the box was easily collected by Harris. Lewes’ organised defending meant that shots from distance became a feature of the early stages, The Gunners unable to find a way through their deep block. Fellow youngster Filis also came close soon after, but the winds carried her powerful shot just wide of the post.
Grant arguably produced some of Arsenal’s best work of the half from the right flank, her perfectly-weighted crosses going closest to opening up the Lewes defence, but still The Gunners were unable to find the target. Despite having plenty of the ball, Arsenal too often looked passive and predictable, lacking the intensity and creativity needed to find space in the final third.
As the game passed the half-hour mark, one final opportunity fell Arsenal’s way. In what was the best chance of the half for the Gunners, Foord came close to a debut goal and the chance to end a frustrating half on a high, as she managed to get a toe to Harris’ heavy touch. However, the Lewes goalkeeper’s lapse in concentration was saved by the post, and she smothered the ball as it rebounded to ensure Lewes’ superb first half performance was not in vain, and that they entered the break on level terms.
Arsenal began the second half with much more urgency, aware that a repeat of their first half performance would not be enough but Lewes did not look phased by the increased intensity and, led by the outstanding centre-back pairing of Caitlin Hayes and skipper Rhian Cleverly, they continued to hold off the FA Women’s Super League champions.
However, in the 53rd minute, Arsenal finally found that bit of quality they so needed, as Nobbs set off on a determined run that started just outside her own box, before laying it off to Roord who sent a low, defence-splitting pass to Dannielle van de Donk as she sprinted into the box on the right hand side. While van de Donk’s shot was palmed away by Harris, Foord was on hand to bury the rebound from close range, getting that debut goal that she had come so close to in the first half.
From then on things were comfortable for Arsenal, the ball rarely making its way out of the Lewes box. Nevertheless The Rookettes continued to show their resilience despite the disappointment of conceding, fending off attack after attack roared on by their sizeable travelling contingent.
In the end, it proved to be an unfortunate finish to the game for a Lewes side that had without question given the game their all, as substitute Vivianne Miedema was able to capitalise on another mistake from Harris, who sent her goal-kick straight into the strikers path. Not someone you want on the end of a goalkeeping error, the 2019 Ballon D’or nominee squared the ball into an arriving Van de Donk, who had little left to do, side-footing it into an open net to double Arsenal’s lead and book their place in the quarter-finals, where they will face local rivals Tottenham Hotspur in a home North London derby.