Manchester United moved to the top of the Barclays FA Women’s Super League table with a brilliant win over Arsenal to condemn their rivals to a first defeat of the season courtesy of Ella Toone’s solitary goal.
Story of the match
With the knowledge that a win would see them leapfrog the Gunners at the league summit, the Red Devils took the game to the visitors and they started far the brighter side with Jackie Groenen intercepting a number of clearances before Christen Press fired over on the turn inside the first three minutes.
The first fifteen saw no early breakthrough as both sides battled hard in midfield – setting the tone for another physical contest between the two clubs – in torrential rain and it was United’s American imports who coped best in the elements.
Press again threatened and neat footwork created space for a shot in the box, but the USA international saw Manuela Zinsberger’s outstretched boot turn a low driven effort just passed the post shortly before the half-hour mark.
Toone also saw a long-range effort easily saved as the hosts continued to force their visitors onto the back foot and you wouldn’t have thought that the Gunners had scored thirteen more goals than any other side in the league before the weekend as they hardly had a sight of goal in the first half.
Daniëlle van de Donk scored the only goal of the game with a late winner in this fixture last season and, with the score 0-0 at the break, all the signs pointed to a repeat result.
The Red Devils’ all-time top scorer Jess Sigsworth came on for Kirsty Hansen for the second half in a bid to unlock the opposition defence and it proved to be a masterstroke. It nearly paid off instantly, too.
On her first appearance of the season, Sigsworth’s floated ball into the box was glanced on by Toone and Groenen stretched to get on the end of it, but her header fell wide of the far post.
Then came the game’s big talking point. Lotte Wubben-Moy went into a 50-50 with Leah Galton with both feet raised and cleaned the United midfielder out late after the ball had gone, but the referee deemed the foul only worthy of a yellow card – much to the disgust of Casey Stoney.
Having been second best for the entirety of the first hour of proceedings, Arsenal replaced Van de Donk and Malin Gut with Jill Roord and Kim Little as they tried to turn the tide.
The changes immediately showed promise as Beth Mead threatened and Caitlin Foord forced a save from Mary Earps after Heath’s shot hit the side netting for United at the other end.
By this point, the game had become stretched and spaces began to appear in midfield as Arsenal began to show why they went into the game with a 100% record in the WSL.
The hosts introduced Lauren James and Katie Zelem to match the Gunners’ fresh legs, but the league leaders kept on banging on the door and Earps had to divert Millie Turner’s deflection wide of the upright to keep it goalless.
Because the fixture against Everton was postponed, United last played twenty-one days ago when they beat West Ham United 4-2 in the capital.
Alessia Russo bagged a brace in that match with Tobin Heath and Christen Press also netting and there was no sign of rustiness at the back as the two Turners – Millie and Amy – put in incredible displays to keep Vivianne Miedema quiet for the entire game.
Then finally, with just seven minutes left on the clock, United struck gold.
After soaking up so much Arsenal pressure, the hosts broke forward through Sigsworth who lifted her head up to find Toone and the midfielder struck a beautiful finish into the bottom left corner off the inside of the post to give her side a precious victory.
After signalling three additional minutes to his assistant, the referee then allowed play to continue for a further four meaning that United had to withstand a heavy barrage as Arsenal searched for the all-important equaliser to preserve their unbeaten start to the season.
However, it wasn’t to be and the Red Devils claimed their first ever win over a ‘big three’ side to climb to the WSL summit and it was thoroughly, thoroughly deserved.
Are United challengers?
They ran Arsenal close last season, but not many people expected United to take the three points. The Gunners have hit nines and sixes already this season so to not only beat them, but to keep a clean sheet is an incredible statement from the Red Devils. Title Challengers?
The gap to the top three is coming down
Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal are rightly regarded as the 'big three' in the English Women's game, but Brighton and now Manchester United have shown that they are stoppable - not to mentioned Everton's valiant display in the FA Cup final last weekend. If this continues, we could be in for a truly competitive future.
Considering they won the game, Jess Sigsworth and Ella Toone will be given many plaudits, but Millie Turner deserves them, too. She won everything in the air and on the ground and read the game brilliantly. She also kept Vivianne Miedema relatively quiet throughout the match.