Marc Skinner’s Manchester United picked up a resolute 1-0 win against Arsenal in the WSL at the Leigh Sports Village, coming close to sealing a Champions League spot for themselves.
With four games to go till the end of the season and United at the top with a one-point lead, it was an Alessio Russo goal that proved to be the difference maker for the Reds.
Skinner made two big changes to the side for the game, as Aoife Mannion stepped in for Millie Turner at the back and Nikita Parris started on the right against her former club, replacing Lucia Garcia, who had started against Brighton. Ella Toone, Russo and Leah Galton all started.
Hayley Ladd partnered Katie Zelem in midfield, with Maya Le Tissier, Hannah Blundell, Ona Batlle and Mary Earps keeping their places in the side.
Arsenal lost Leah Williamson to injury within the first 20 minutes and it was a major blow, considering that they have been without Vivianne Miedema for some weeks now.
United nearly took advantage of Williamson’s absence in the 22nd minute, as Zelem took a free kick and it was headed at the back post to Aoife Mannion, who was free and unmarked. While a shot could have resulted in United taking the lead but Mannion missed her attempt completely.
Chances were scarce in the first half and United nearly had one in stoppage time. Zelem nearly turned creator and her free kick from some distance out was deep and impressive. It caused chaos in the Arsenal box but missed a couple of United players by inches.
A couple of minutes later, United took a massive lead. Le Tissier’s pass from the back opened up Arsenal and set Parris through on the right. Her pass inside was perfect for Russo, who finished into the bottom corner. It was the last kick of what was an otherwise dour half when it comes to chances.
Russo had a big chance to double the lead two minutes into the 2nd half, but her volleyed effort from a tight angle was saved by Zinsberger.
Arsenal did grow into the game as the 2nd half went on, dominating possession more often and pegging United back but they faced a clear struggle to create concrete chances.
Blackstenius nearly found herself through on goal after Le Tissier missed her clearance off a long-ball from the Arsenal backline. But Blackstenius couldn’t get her feet sorted out in time and couldn’t even take an attempt at goal. It was fitting of Arsenal’s performances till that point, as the Gunners struggled to create much.
Arsenal did win a free kick from a promising angle in the 85th minute after Ona Batlle was booked for handball. But Frida Maanum lifted the free kick well over the bar.
There was a late scramble in the box in stoppage time after Arsenal had won a corner but a shot in the box was blocked and later cleared, as United breathed a huge sigh of relief.
The Gunners did win a corner in the 98th minute and Zinsberger came up for it. Earps had punched the corner away and it fell right at Zinsberger, who managed to volley it just over the bar and United managed to avoid a crushing blow with the last kick of the ball.
The victory takes United very close to sealing a Champions League spot for the first time in history and with Chelsea having two games in hand, United went four points at the top of the WSL table.