Things have not gone well for Arsenal in big matches this season, with only one draw in five games. Quite a lot of it, indeed the majority of it, has been issues of their own making; mistakes, poor tactical set-ups, and injuries picked up in training. So when the consquence of the latter meant Leah Williamson would be out, and Arsenal’s midfield and defence re-jigged as a result, it was hard not to fear that it would be another long, and painful night.
Arsenal, though, started brightly and frenetically. Manchester United kicked off but wouldn’t get the ball into Arsenal’s half until five minutes into the game, by which point Arsenal were 1-0 up. Good pressure from Caitlin Foord and Vivianne Miedema saw the latter win the ball back, and combine with Foord. Foord drove towards the box, and then slipped in Jill Roord, whose shot was deflected by Millie Turner past Mary Earps to put Arsenal ahead within two minutes.
Arsenal got an early goal in the December loss against Manchester City through early pressure, a game that they ceded control ultimately by sitting deeper and deeper. Here, they they did a sort of half-press, keeping Manchester United honest, but perhaps letting United begin to set the tempo too much. Lucy Staniforth began finding pockets behind the Arsenal midfield, and Lauren James and Christen Press started really targeting Arsenal’s right hand side. The former should’ve equalized after a quick counter attack from a corner, while Ella Toone’s poor touch from a Staniforth pass denied United a chance to equalize.
At the other end, Arsenal didn’t do much, but a dangerous ball in from a Katie McCabe corner highlighted Manchester United’s weakness on set pieces.
Arsenal started the second half as they started the first: strongly. Danïelle van de Donk shot straight at Earps and then Beth Mead went just wide with a shot from the top of the box. And when Vivianne Miedema won a corner, Lotte Wubben-Moy’s bullet header from the ensuing McCabe delivery put Arsenal 2-0 up.
Things were looking up; but just as Arsenal were growig and beginning to dominate, Beth Mead, after missing a chance to get a shot away at goal, foolishly tackled Jess Sigsworth from behind while on a yellow. Red cards are rare in the WSL, but it was an easy second yellow for a referee, Amy Fearn, who seemed to only have cards for Arsenal players.
Down to 10, Arsenal could expect to buckle. But it was they who had the better chances. The emergency centre back pairing of Lia Wälti and Wubben-Moy held firm, marshaled by the excellent Wubben-Moy, and Arsenal could’ve sealed the game with a well worked move down the left. After excellent hold-up play from Foord, McCabe was slipped in, and her cutback picked out Vivianne Miedema, who saw her shot blocked after working the ball onto her left foot.
Manchester United put the ball in the back of the net, but Ella Toone was offside, and despite 5 minutes of added time, there would be no scare for Arsenal, who saw out the game with relative ease.
It is frankly a huge win for Arsenal. They are now 3 points behind Manchester United, with a game in hand. While Arsenal still must win every game, they will go into every game favourites, and boosted by the quality of this result.
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Zinsberger; Maritz, Wubben-Moy, Wälti, McCabe; Van de Donk (Nobbs 86), Little (Patten 86); Mead, Roord (Gut 82), Foord; Miedema (Evans 90+1)
Substitues not used: Williams, Stenson, Maier
Goals: M. Turner (OG) 3’, Wubben-Moy 51’
Red card: Mead 62’