Alessia Russo’s injury-time header helped Manchester United recover from a second-half collapse to end Arsenal’s perfect start to the season and draw them level at the top in a thrilling 3-2 win at the Emirates Stadium.
In front of the second-largest WSL crowd of 40,604, after the 47,367 that attended Arsenal’s defeat of Tottenham at the Emirates, United took the lead through Ella Toone late in the first half before Arsenal struck back in the second. Frida Maanum drew Arsenal level before Laura Wienroither gave them the lead.
United flipped the script though, with Katie Zelem delivering twice from set pieces, first for Millie Turner, then Russo to send the hefty away contingent wild.
Manchester United manager, Marc Skinner, had urged his team to step up against the top teams before this game. “As a group, we have to keep pushing each other because we want to be in these games, winning these types of games even though we know how difficult that is to do,” Skinner said.
United suffered a bruising 3-1 defeat by Chelsea before the international break, their first loss and first goals conceded of the season.
In the reverse fixture against Arsenal last season, a 79th minute goal from Arsenal’s Swedish forward Stina Blackstenius denied the visiting side a huge three points at Borehamwood after Alessia Russo’s first-half opener.
Skinner said his team’s growth has been huge since that 1-1 draw but, ultimately, the real test of that growth will be reflected on at Christmas, after they have played Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City in three of their last four games before the winter pause.
The international break has taken its toll on the increasingly depleted Arsenal but centre-back Lotte Wubben-Moy was fit enough, following a mild quad strain, to return to partner Steph Catley at the back with Leah Williamson and Rafaelle both still out with foot injuries. Jordan Nobbs, Beth Mead, Manuela Zinsberger and Laura Wienroither all also started despite all suffering injuries at different points during the break.
United, meanwhile, welcomed back Ona Batlle for the trip to London with the right-back having not played since mid-October.
You could have been forgiven for thinking the visiting team in green were the unbeaten side that is flying in the league in the first half, rather than a team emerging from a tough defeat to Chelsea. United were slick and rampant and the Gunners gifted them possession in the middle far too often, with the trio of Nobbs, Maanum and Lia Wälti struggling – the influential captain, Kim Little, who has a knee injury, an obvious miss.
It looked like United could having been following a similar path of one trod often under Skinner – of not capitalising on a strong first half performance – but a richly deserved goal to given them the lead came six minutes before the break, having won possession in the middle the ball was played wide to Hayley Ladd on the right and the midfielder swung a cross to the back post where the unmarked Toone, who had snuck in behind Wubben-Moy, sidefooted in.
Their profligacy would be punished instantly in the second half though, as Maanum hustled the ball from Nikita Parris inside the centre circle before gliding towards the edge of the area and sending in a shot that would loop off centre-back Maya Le Tissier and in. Arsenal had come out of the dressing room fighting, playing with an intensity sorely lacking in the first half and United were rattled. A hefty but fair challenge on Parris by Caitlin Foord in front of the United technical area resulted in Skinner receiving a yellow card for remonstrating with the referee.
After the hour mark Vivienne Miedema came on, in place of Nobbs, after she was rested for Arsenal’s 4-0 defeat of Leicester and the international break.
Hard work from Miedema would lead to Arsenal’s second, having broken in on the left the Dutch forward was forced to shift the ball backwards to Foord, who fed Katie McCabe who swung the ball to the back post where Wienroither volleyed in her first goal for Arsenal from close range.