LONDON -- WSL league leaders Arsenal saw their 14-match winning streak come to an end at home to Manchester United after a pair of late strikes from the visitors. In flying form coming into the match, Arsenal failed to find their better football and went in at the break a goal down thanks to Ella Toone's late first half effort.
Not on the back foot for long, the hosts equalised early in the second half thanks to Frida Maanum's deflected drive before Laura Wienroither gave them the lead. Lively throughout the match, Untied refused to be beaten and found their own equaliser through Millie Turner at a late free-kick before Alessia Russo completed the breathless turnaround with her own header at set piece in the dying seconds of regular time.
1. United expose Arsenal's weaknesses
Still playing with an improvised backline following injuries to starting centre-back pair, Leah Williamson and Rafaelle, the Gunners had done well to weather most incoming attacking storms before this outing. Yet, once Leah Galton who has been digging down into some of her better form this season began to run at the usually unchallenged defensive line, the entire Arsenal team began to quake.
Indeed, it was the visitors who enjoyed the better attacking spells during the first half as they stretched the play across the broad Emirates pitch that Jonas Eidevall's team usually relish playing on and had yet to be beaten on in the WSL, winning all four of their previous league matches played in N7.
Even when Arsenal found their equaliser at the start of the second half to swing the match into their favour and help them build momentum, the fragility of their defence remained clear when United questioned its resolution. And with Manuela Zinsberger having a less than faultless day in goal, United trusted in themselves to keep going and indeed, find the moments of quality to see them come away with all three points.
2. Arsenal's stuttering style
Coming into the tie on a 14-match winning run in the league -- a running WSL record -- the Gunners have looked like a team on a mission, with a razor-focus on all the silverware ahead of them. With the 2021-22 season bringing about a dearth of silverware -- a rarity for one of the most successful clubs in the country -- the runners up from last year have been attacking all matches with a belligerent ferocity, pressing their opposition hard and high, scoring for fun along the way.
Yet against Manchester United, that fluency between players was lacking, rapidly dissolving like a puddle on a hot day, leaving only the stain of a memory in its place. It was true that the 11 who started against United weren't necessarily the 11 who Eidevall would have picked out of choice, but rather were the best available to him based on form and fitness. So, it could be argued that the lack of week in week out familiarity in games was lacking yet, the team was the same that had started their last league game before the international break.
Arsenal, as a team however, understand the way their manager wants them to play, nuances and tweaks for individual games aside, there is a clear and punishing style that the Swede preaches. However, without a player like Kim Little on the pitch to be able to get in and weight the midfield battle in the favour of the Gunners, the system begins to degrade and fail across the pitch. The absence of the Scot in such close games asks everyone on the pitch to find a better first touch, and get comfortable moving the ball at pace without losing the accuracy that is vital. Even with Maanum's goal acting as an accelerant to light the fire under the hosts and force a higher tempo, it was the accuracy and comfort with the ball that was still wanting from Arsenal.
3. United find a 90-minute performance
In their last match before the international break, United battled hard but ultimately came up short against current champions, Chelsea. It was a match riddled with mistakes from both but the difference on the night was Chelsea's ability to go to their bench and find the players to make the difference, to encourage those on the pitch to punish the mistakes when they happened, something the Red Devils could not do.
In London, United fired out of the blocks and instead of playing a balanced match as they did against Chelsea, took the fight to the hosts. It was a bold strategy but one that paid dividends as they found the weaknesses in the Arsenal midfield and defence to exploit.
At 0-1 and 2-1, the complaint from United was easily that they didn't make the most of their first half chances. It looked as if they were going to leave with nothing after deserving something but it was being able to dig deep, to hold themselves firm in the face of Arsenal's attack and cut forward with enough power to keep creating that was the difference for them today.
Again for Man United, it was Katie Zelem's critical dead-ball delivery that propelled them to victory with both second half goals coming from her crosses into the box, but they wouldn't have been a positivity if not for her teammates driving forward and working the defence and goalkeeper. Against Chelsea, it looked as if the gap was indeed closing but only minutely, and that United were still a long way from being able to mix it with the top two in England but at the Emirates, the Red Devils reached out and grabbed their opposition, dragging themselves up to their level, slamming the gap shut. Even if it is only for one match whilst Arsenal don't have all their favoured starters to call upon, it's a reminder that United are there, in touching distance and on a good day, they can compete with anyone.
Arsenal: Zinsberger 4, Wubben-Moy 4, Catley 5, Wienroither 6, Nobbs 5, Mead 6, Maanum 7, Walti 5, McCabe 5, Foord 4, Blackstenius 5
Subs: Miedema 6
Man United: Earps 6, Battle 6, Blundell 5, Toone 7, Zelem 7, Galton 7, Ladd 6, Le Tissier 5, Turner 6, Parris 7, Russo 6
Subs: Garcia 5, Thomas 5
Best and worst performers
BEST: Ella Toone, Manchester United
The Lioness had an impactful first half, occupying dangerous areas for the visitors as well as giving them their first goal.
WORST: Manuela Zinsberger, Arsenal
Rather than commanding her box and organising her defence, Zinsberger looked off-balance and out of her depth, repeatedly flapping at the ball instead of collecting it with authority.
Highlights and notable moments
Man United outplayed Arsenal in the first half and were rewarded with a goal by Ella Toone.
The halftime team talk proved inspirational, as Arsenal's Frida Maanum scored in the 46th minute.
Everything she touches turns to gold ⭐️ pic.twitter.com/IYczrc3AJD— Arsenal Women (@ArsenalWFC) November 19, 2022
A thrilling end to the match sees Russo score the winner in extra time.
After the match: What the managers, players said
Quotes to come...
- Man United picked up only their second ever win against Arsenal in the WSL
- Arsenal conceded their first goal from a set piece this season
- Arsenal's 14-game unbeaten streak stretching to January has come to an end
Arsenal: Jonas Eidevall's side travel to Juventus on Nov. 24 in the UEFA Women's Champions League before facing Everton at home on Dec. 3 in the WSL, followed by the home leg against Juventus on Dec. 7.