Manchester United enjoyed a landmark moment in the Women’s Super League over the weekend that felt like it has been coming ever since the club was promoted to the top flight in 2019.
The club’s women’s team was formed in 2018 with the overall ambition of quickly rivalling the best female sides in the country and ultimately lifting the WSL title. On Sunday, that goal moved one step closer thanks to a 1-0 victory over Arsenal, which was United’s first league win over any of the WSL’s ‘Big Three’ - which also includes Manchester City and reigning champions Chelsea.
Home-grown fan favourite Ella Toone scored the decisive goal in the closing stages of the game, sweeping the ball into the far corner to round off a swift counter attack.
By then, two-time World Cup winning forwards Tobin Heath and Christen Press had both already been withdrawn by manager Casey Stoney, highlighting the level of depth in the United squad to be able to kick on and still get the win without them.
Defensively, it represented a monumental effort at the back and in midfield to earn a clean sheet against a devastatingly effective Arsenal side that had scored 29 goals in five WSL games this season prior to kick-off. Even more impressively, it was also the first time that any team has kept a clean sheet against the Gunners in a league fixture since December 2018.
It is little wonder that centre-back Millie Turner, the leading voice at the back since day one, has been called up to two England training camps so far this season.
United started the 2020/21 WSL season with a hard fought 1-1 draw against Chelsea and have been threatening to actually beat one of the league’s giants for some time.
They narrowly lost 1-0 to Manchester City and Arsenal in their opening two games as a newly promoted WSL club at the start of last season, the former thanks to a single exceptional long-range effort and the second the result of a scrappy late goal.
A similarly close 1-0 defeat to Chelsea not long afterwards was only decided by a penalty, while United actually beat City in a Continental Cup game and also ran them close in an FA Cup tie.
Victory over Arsenal was the culmination of all that progress that has closed the gap to the top sides, with belief and confidence the most valuable takeaway from that.
“We now believe that we can go toe-to-toe and beat the best teams in the league and that’s important,” Stoney reflected to MUTV after the game.
United went top of the WSL table by beating Arsenal, replacing the Gunners in first place. Next up is a Manchester derby on the annual November ‘Women’s Football Weekend’ and an immediate opportunity for the team to prove that they are there to stay by getting another positive result.