When Arsenal Women played against Manchester United last season, the hosts were disciplined, defensive, and while Arsenal dominated the game, it took until the 89th minute for the winner, with Danïelle van de Donk’s scoring from close range in the penalty box. That was the story of Manchester United’s first season in the WSL: they were very good defensively, with the third best defensive record, and finished fourth in the WSL on points per game. This season, after some big name acquisitions in the summer, Manchester United are riding high in the WSL. With four wins and a draw, they are in third, and offer a serious challenge to Joe Montemurro’s side on Sunday.
Notably, United added USWNT World Cup winners Tobin Heath and Christen Press in the summer. Their best summer signing so far, however, has been Alessia Russo, who joined from UNC, where she was a teammate of Arsenal’s Lotte Wubben-Moy. Russo has scored three and assisted two so far this season, and thrives off of crosses. With Tobin Heath playing largely on the right, and Leah Galton delivering from the left, Russo gets a steady number of crosses throughout—something that has been a weakness for Arsenal’s defense in bigger games. Ella Toone also offers a threat from the number 10 position.
Casey Stoney has tried to keep Manchester United’s defensive discipline from last season. Birmingham City and West Ham, though, both scored twice against Manchester United, and in the opening game of the season, Chelsea created a series of outstanding chances that they couldn’t take. If Arsenal are able to play their game, there will definitely be attacking opportunities.
Kim Little, Jill Roord, and Leonie Maier all returned in Arsenal’s 4-0 Continental Cup win midweek. Jen Beattie and Beth Mead were not involved in the win, but both will be available. Jordan Nobbs, Steph Catley, Lisa Evans, and Noëlle Maritz remain injured, though Nobbs, Catley, and Evans have all returned to training in some form.
Player to Watch: Leah Williamson
Leah Williamson’s early season passing form has been exceptional—so much so that she was played as a number 8 in midfield in an England intrasquad game during the last international break. She has played the joint-most progressive passes for Arsenal this season, with the most progressive distance, both overall, and per 90 minutes. Williamson is second, with Vivianne Miedema, with three through balls, and also leads in progressive carries. She is vitally important to how Arsenal build up play, but with the threat of Alessia Russo, among others, Williamson and Jen Beattie will have their work cut out for them defensively.
One area where Arsenal have struggled in big games is with crosses, particularly from the left-hand side. However, Beattie offers added aerial capability, and Arsenal’s defence overall is stronger with the Scottish international in the starting lineup.
1. Zinsberger; 20. Maier, 6. Williamson, 5. Beattie, 15. McCabe; 13. Wälti, 10. Little, 7. Van de Donk; 9. Mead, 11. Miedema, 19. Foord
Substitues: 18. Williams (GK), 3. Wubben-Moy, 14. Roord, 21. Gut, 22. Schnaderbeck, 30. Mace, 31. Denton
WHAT: Manchester United Women vs Arsenal Women, Women’s Super League
WHERE: Leigh Sports Village, Leigh
WHEN: Sunday, November 8th 6:30 AM PST | 9:30 AM EST | 2:30 PM GMT
WATCH: NBC Live extra (streaming), ATAFootball.com (streaming), FAPlayer.tv (audio only US, streaming UK)