Manchester United 0 Arsenal 1
As the game ticked towards its conclusion, there was the feeling that the dam was breaking. Manchester United were unfortunate here to not collect their first point of their Women’s Super League residence, against an Arsenal side underwhelming for the majority of the first half. But in that final ten minutes - so frenetic that in that period Vivianne Miedema headed wide, struck the post and had a shot cleared off the line - Arsenal’s gradual ascent into dominance showed when substitute Danielle van de Donk, with a minute of normal time remaining, blasted home as the ball pinballed around the box.
In added time, Kirsty Hanson lofted a free-kick onto the roof of Manuela Zinsberger’s net and this is United’s chief shortcoming. That Stoney’s side have cumulatively spent about an hour of their opening two matches with the league’s resident Champions League representatives penned in their own third is the most telling indication that they are ready to shake up the established order. What they have yet to do is score.
For all their invention, they were largely intense without looking dangerous. They mustered their first shot on target 57 minutes in, Jane Ross latching on to Jess Sigsworth’s through ball only for Zinsberger to divert the danger and Leonie Maier to scrape Ross’ follow-up off the line. Arsenal, weaker for the benching of van de Donk, lacked their usual cutting edge until well into the second half but eventually put the game to bed.
This was the story of the evening for both sides. Whenever the game hinted at lapsing into a lull, there came, invariably, some screeching moment of incident, often from the United goalkeeper, Mary Earps, who had some game for a goalkeeper - largely unused at Wolfsburg and England’s third choice - for whom first-team football has been rare.
Earps was United’s most valuable player here, even on a night where their backline kept the off-colour Miedema at bay and Katie Zelem sprang all their attacks from the middle. First, there was the double save to deny Miedema from close range: Miedema reacted first to Evans’ delivery and Earps instinctively dropped low to retain parity before springing up to deny the Dutch forward again, from less than a foot away, on the rebound. So unexpected was the save that the United scoreboard, poised to switch to 0-1, crashed and instead beamed back a frozen Windows 7 wallpaper.
That was United’s first defensive mistake, arising when Millie Turner knocked a clearance straight into the path of Beth Mead to spread to Kim Little, and from the subsequent corner Mead struck the crossbar directly from the corner flag. Earps was alive again, swooping and dipping into a carbon copy of a double-save from Little’s fleet-footed trickery inside the box.
Jordan Nobbs, making her first start since rupturing her ACL in November 2018, is, like Earps, another hoping to acquaint herself with an England starting jersey and was a crafty presence. Her and Little were Arsenal’s brightest in a game where Miedema, in a deeper role, was marshalled effectively and at one point pressed into her own box.
Perhaps United would have come closer were Jackie Groenen and Lotta Okvist not missing with a knock and concussion respectively, but it would be churlish to complain when Ella Toone headed wide after beating Leah Williamson and Sigsworth also missed a chance to score.
Man Utd (4-3-3): Earps; A. Turner, M. Turner, McManus, Smith; Ladd, Toone, Zelem; Sigsworth (Hanson 78), Ross (James 58), Galton.
Subs not used: Harris, Green, Mikalsen (g), Arnot, Edwards.
Bookings: Zelem, James.
Arsenal (4-5-1): Zinsberger; Maer, Williamson, Beattie, McCabe; Roord (Quinn 90 + 3); Evans, Nobbs (van de Donk 70), Mead, Little; Miedema
Bookings: Zinsberger, Roord, van de Donk.
Subs not used: Peyraud-Magnin (g), Mitchell, Schnaderbeck, Grant, Filis.
Goals scored: van de Donk 89
Referee: Abigail Byrne.