Arsenal boost Champions League hopes with WSL win over Manchester United

Arsenal breathed life into their fight for a place in next season’s Champions League as quickfire goals from Netherlands forward Jill Roord and centre-back Lotte Wubben-Moy in either half helped them to victory over Manchester United.

The win means Arsenal cut their deficit on third-placed United to three points, having played a game less.

A third Women’s Super League side will compete in next season’s Champions League for the first time, with the competition being expanded, a group stage being added and the prize money going up. 因此, there was huge pressure on both teams at a crisp Borehamwood.

Joe Montemurro had been coy before the match: there was an injury but he wouldn’t say to who. When the team sheet arrived his ominous secrecy was understood – influential centre-back Leah Williamson was missing entirely having picked up an injury to a quad in training.

With Viki Schnaderbeck and Jen Beattie also out, defensive midfielder Lia Walti was pushed back alongside Wubben-Moy, weakening the base of the Arsenal spine. Williamson’s absence was not just a concern from a defensive point of view, but also because the England international is the way the Gunners build out from the back.

“Totally,” Montemurro had quickly quipped when asked if a desire for revenge had added to the intensity in the Arsenal camp in the build up. “I don’t know if it’s revenge but there’s a real positivity at the moment,” he backtracked. Arsenal had let themselves down “technically and tactically and there were silly errors and mistakes” in the reverse fixture, when a late goal from Ella Toone gave United a morale-boosting first win over a traditional top-three side.

A very attacking midfield and forward line for the Gunners was partially enforced, but it paid off as an electric Arsenal start, perhaps fuelled by that need for revenge, was rewarded with a goal three minutes in. Roord drove into the box before lashing a shot in, having taken a heavy deflection off Millie Turner on the way.

Drawing first blood did not settle the nerves, 尽管. United welcomed back former Arsenal youth player Lauren James and US World Cup winner Christen Press from injury and the pair slotted into a potent front three with Toone. James would be the focus of Arsenal’s attentions, an almost visible fear rippling across the pitch whenever the technically astute forward received the ball and turned towards goal.

Both sides pressed hard and high resulting in a feisty opening, and both teams tried to gather themselves too, to calm the game and settle things when in possession. “Let’s settle this down, calm down” an exasperated Montemurro could be heard shouting across the pitch. While United captain Katie Zelem appealed to her teammates to “help each other”, “we’ve got time,” she implored.

Frustrated with the persistent fouling from Toone on Katie McCabe – at one stage the Ireland international was hooked around the neck – and of Beth Mead in particular, Arsenal players protested but referee Amy Fearn, who struggled to control the game, brushed away the pleas.

Mirroring a blistering start to the game, Arsenal ramped up the intensity early in the second half. First Daniëlle van de Donk hit an effort straight at Mary Earps, then Mead smashed a shot narrowly wide after cutting inside and on to her left foot.

The reward for the pressure came quickly. Vivianne Miedema won a corner on the left and, swung in by McCabe, it was headed through the arms of Earps by Wubben-Moy. Arsenal continued to dominate but Mead handed United a lifeline with 30 minutes to play by scything down substitute Jess Sigsworth in her own half and when United looked to break, and picking up a second yellow card in the process.

Toone got the ball in the back of the net for United with less than 10 minutes remaining but she was offside as Sigsworth headed on to her. As United hopes seeped away there was a buoyancy in Arsenal’s defending that almost made up for their reduced numbers. Now they just need to maintain their record against teams outside the top four, where they have not suffered a defeat since 2018.