Another milestone for women's football as record-breaking Arsenal boost title hopes

Another milestone for women's football as record-breaking Arsenal boost title hopes

Arsenal Women 3 Manchester United Women 1

Another day, another milestone for women’s football in this country. When it comes to setting records, Arsenal really are the gift that just keeps on giving.

A total of 60,160 tickets were sold for this encounter – the most ever for a Women’s Super League match. The North London club, remarkably, now accounts for the top five attendances in the women’s top-flight.

The real headline news, however, is that Arsenal remain firmly in the WSL title race. The challenge will be to bottle the feelgood energy from this comprehensive victory, which boosts their chances of securing European football next season, and carry it into the business end of the season as they hunt a first league crown since 2019.

“It would be nice to say it’s really significant but the reality is it’s what we do in the next eight games that will give this victory any value,” said Jonas Eidevall, the Arsenal manager, when pressed on the importance of his side’s result. “If we don’t perform well in the next eight games, today’s result doesn’t mean anything.”

Arsenal have disenchanted fans somewhat with their lacklustre strike rate in front of goal lately, but they matched the high-octane atmosphere inside the Emirates after capitalising on Geyse’s early own goal.

Against an underwhelming United outfit who lacked any cutting edge, they had the result wrapped up before the break courtesy of Cloe Lacasse’s header and a Kim Little penalty, with Lucia Garcia’s injury-time strike the only imperfection on an otherwise unblemished performance.

Another milestone for women's football as record-breaking Arsenal boost title hopes
Arsenal's Cloe Lacasse celebrates scoring their third goal - PA/Rhianna Chadwick

The hosts were superior in every area, their big-game players stepping up in this win-at-all-costs match after England star Leah Williamson who was ruled out with a hamstring problem.

The defender’s injury is thought to be minor, but Eidevall said it was “likely” that Williamson, who was recalled earlier this week to the Lionesses’ squad for their upcoming friendlies against Austria and Italy later this month after a lengthy period out with a knee injury, would have to withdraw from Sarina Wiegman’s squad.

Her absence did little to dampen Arsenal’s resolve. The hosts suffocated United with their crisp passing game and repeatedly carved the visitors open with intelligent link play, as United were made to pay for their haphazard defending.

Lacasse, a real livewire in attack and tormented the visitors all afternoon, was particularly brilliant. The Canadian reacted the quickest when Katie Zelem rushed a panicked clearance kick across the goalmouth to thump home a header. United’s miserable afternoon continued when Gemma Evans’ clumsy challenge on Beth Mead gifted Arsenal a penalty, which Kim Little coolly slotted into the net.

Marc Skinner, the United head coach, cut a frustrated figure on the touchline before withdrawing Geyse on the hour mark to shake things up.

In truth, his personnel never recovered after failing to deal with Katie McCabe’s probing corner, which deflected off Geyse’s thigh and beat Mary Earps at her near post, 10 minutes into the action. Other than Garcia’s late consolation goal – when the Spaniard stabbed home Ella Toone’s cross – they had little to shout about.

In a cruel twist, England star Russo, one of Skinner’s former alumni who swapped United for North London last summer, enjoyed the biggest cheer of the afternoon when she entered the fray mid-way through the second half.

Despite ramping up the pressure, Arsenal continued spurning a flurry of gilt-edged opportunities in front of goal. Mead twice struck the woodwork, while Lacasse should have had another but dawdled too long in front of Earps, who produced a series of trademark saves.

Skinner denied the result was “damaging” but conceded his side lacked an “abundance of physicality”. “We’re still chasing the chase,” he said when asked if his side could still target a maiden league title. “That’s what we have to do. You have to be almost perfect coming to the Emirates, and we weren’t.”

Taking to the stage in front of a bumper crowd proved a small consolation for a side that now find themselves seven points adrift of third-placed Arsenal and 10 of league leaders Chelsea. “In the bigger context of women’s football, I hope it continues to grow,” Skinner said of the Emirates sell-out.

Match details

Arsenal (4-2-3-1): D’Angelo; McCabe, Codina, Wubben-Moy, Catley (Foord 84); Pelova (Cooney-Cross 45), Walti; Mead (Maanum 75), Little (Miedema 75), Lacasse; Blackstenius (Russo 66).
Booked: McCabe, Wubben-Moy, Foord.
Subs not used: Zinsberger (gk), Lia, Reid, Bouhaddi (gk)
Manchester United (4-2-3-1): Earps; Evans (Galton 45), Le Tissier, Turner, Blundell; Naalsand (Ladd 70), Zelem; da Silva Ferreira (Williams 62), Toone, Garcia; Parris (Malard 77)
Booked: Blundell, Evans.
Subs not used: Tullis-Joyce, Mannion, Guerrero, Aherne.
Ref: Kirsty Dowle
Att: 60,160