Arsenal remain the only side in the FA WSL to keep a 100% record five fixtures in though Casey Stoney's Manchester United remain undefeated after drawing with Chelsea and winning every match since the opening weekend.
Stoney has proved to give Joe Montemurro headaches. Last time out, the Gunners won marginally at Leigh Sports Village after a late goal from Danielle van de Donk.
This time, with heavy reinforcements United are looking strong to go up against another 'top three' club and Arsenal have yet to encounter Tobin Heath, Christen Press, Alessia Russo and Ona Batlle. Montemurro has nothing but applause for how well the club is doing in just their second year in top flight and expects a difficult match on Sunday; "They have the full package and they deserve to be at the top. We applaud the investment they’ve made and applaud the fact that they’re doing so well."
United managed a goalless draw against Chelsea with a thin squad and without Russo, Heath and Press. Going into Sunday, Stoney has a fully fit squad and attacking strength that she lacked in her last clash with Montemurro's side.
"They’re very dangerous going forward, you know the areas you have to take care of and they are very defensively disciplined but we don’t tend to change much of what we do. I’ve got a capable squad and we have to make sure that we are very disciplined in what we do and you make errors against arsenal you’ll get punished," said Stoney, former Arsenal captain.
"Your best forward defense is attack, if you can take the game to them can keep the ball more than them, if you can put them on the backfoot, it gives you a chance."
On Vivianne Miedema
The Dutch striker passed Nikita Parris as the WSL's all-time top goal scorer with 52 goals in 50 matches. Vivianne Miedema managed to get the record in 60 games fewer than the former Manchester City striker. So far, she has ten goals and one assist in five league matches.
Stoney is aware of the striker's excellence and hope her backline use this as motivation to stop the best striker in the league from scoring yet another hattrick.
"You can’t ever ignore her because she might not do anything for 50 min and then she’ll score a goal or score a hattrick. She is a phenomenal finisher she is very good at what she does. If I was a centre back playing on Sunday, I would say that I want to test myself against this player who’s getting hattricks and make sure she doesn’t today and give her a real problem.
"It’s a great test for our backline, but it’s also a great test for our team to make sure we can take our game to Arsenal. They’re scoring lots of goals at the moment, they’re a good side with excellent players individually and collectively they’ve got the top goal scorer of the WSL.
"You look at them and they are where they are because they’ve had good performances so it’s probably gonna be our biggest test yet."
Always giving Arsenal a tough match
Arsenal scored in the 88th minute back in September, just Stoney's second match in top flight football. Earlier in 2019, when United were still in the FA Women's Championship the two sides met in the Continental Tyres League Cup semi-final where the Gunners sealed a marginal 2-1 win with no-less but a Miedema brace.
A lot has changed within both clubs since they've last met and on Sunday we might see a different side to this clash.
"I think my players work very hard and they are defensively disciplined. Arsenal pull you around, we know exactly the spaces they want to exploit, we know their players and we know they’re gonna be defensively disciplined, but I’m hoping you see a slightly different side to us on Sunday."
"Yeah, we were disappointed that we lost that game 1-0, but if I’m realistic we were only going to get a draw out of that game, we didn’t attack enough. It’s very difficult because Arsenal keep the ball so well, they have a lot of threats but I’m really confident that we can try to change that last result and have a bit more attacking emphasis on Sunday."
United need to prove themselves on the pitch
Speaking ahead of Sunday, Montemurro had nothing but praise for the Manchester club; Stoney has gained a lot of respect within the league. She's taken a newly formed club to challenge for a Champions League spot within just three years of existence and she's competing against clubs who have twenty years of experience over Manchester United.
"I’ve got a lot of respect for Joe. I was at Arsenal with Pedro was there and left, then Joe came in and turned the club around and got them winning. Everything I’ve heard about Joe is massively positive you look at their performances he’s obviously a great coach, good man and his team reflects him.
"I think that’s credit to my players that he’s saying that and I think it’s about now “yes, he’s saying it, let make sure we prove it.” It’s great to get those compliments but it’s what counts out on the grass to make sure that we keep performing very well, keep our standards very high, make sure that we are consistently performing against the top teams to get points to make sure that we’re in the running."
As pointed out by Tom Garry from the BBC, no team outside of Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea have won a major trophy in England since 2014. Manchester United are favourites to change this record from onlookers, but there are other capable teams outside of Manchester.
"Somebody’s got to, somebody’s got to break that [cycle]. We’ve got more than a capable squad but it’s also a very competitive league with some fantastic teams in it. Somebody’s got to and we got to believe that that team can be us."
Short notice to Everton cancellation
United were set to play Everton in the Conti Cup this past Wednesday, but the fixture was called off the night before due to a safety problem in Everton's stadium. Less than 24 hours notice to rearrange next day's schedule ahead of big fixtures on the weekend.
“It’s not ideal, not ideal, at quarter past nine on Tuesday night I find out I’ve not got a game the next day, when all day it could have been a problem that was fixed. How much effort went in to fixing it, I have to ask the question. And we’d prepped for a game, but I’ve got fantastic team, they turn it around quickly, and we were back in training the next day, I flipped it, it’s got to be a positive, we get an extra day to prepare for Arsenal, but at a professional level, it’s not acceptable.”
"We have to leave that frustration and disappointment behind us, because my players deserve better than what happened in the week, and we have to look forward, we have to make sure that all our eyes are in the boat rowing forward, looking at Arsenal and trying to get something out of that game.”