You have to go all the way back to the heady days of October 2019 for the last time that Arsenal recorded a WSL victory over a fellow top three side.
Since the Gunners’ 1-0 win against Manchester City 17 months ago, we’ve had a global pandemic, a selection of the world’s greatest players have descended upon the WSL and the league’s top three has expanded to become a top four. In that order.
Of the above three statements, Manchester United couldn’t do much about the first, have played their part in the second and have been largely responsible for the third.
The Red Devils signed USWNT World Cup winning duo Tobin Heath and Christen Press in the summer and took points off Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal during their first meetings with the league’s established top three this season to leave them in the midst of a surprise title challenge.
Injuries and a down turn in form since the turn of the year means this title challenge has subsequently been downgraded to a Champions League race, but they were still in pole position to secure the WSL’s third and final European spot heading into Friday evening’s clash with Arsenal.
The Gunners had also raided the United States during the transfer window, but instead of recruiting a pair of World Cup winners with over 300 international appearances to their name, they re-signed Arsenal academy graduate Lotte Wubben-Moy, who had spent the previous three years playing college football for the North Carolina Tarr Heels.
Arsenal had failed to beat a fellow top four side in the league in their last seven attempts, losing six of those encounters, and seeing the starting XI to face United would likely not have filled fans with a great deal of confidence.
The ever dependable Leah Williamson was missing through injury, and coupled with Jen Beattie’s absence, Joe Montemurro opted to start defensive midfielder Lia Walti in the heart of a makeshift backline.
But Arsenal fans needn’t have worried. Wubben-Moy marshalled the slightly improvised defence with all the authority, passion and resilience of a seasoned veteran, as opposed to a 22-year-old in only her 23rd top flight appearance who just three days earlier had written a blog about the beauty of a cup of tea.
With Kim Little knitting everything together in the middle of the park, there was a connection between the front three and rest of the side that had often been lacking in Arsenal’s previous matchups against the WSL’s elite. Williamson is so key to Arsenal both defensively and in the way they play out from the back, quarterback style, but a combination of Little and Wubben-Moy helped to compensate for her absence.
Wubben-Moy was instrumental at both ends, powering home a header to (tea) bag the Gunners’ second, and celebrated with her characteristic ferocious joy of a die hard Arsenal fan.
But her goal was just the (PG) tip(s) of the iceberg.
When Beth Mead saw red with 30 minutes left on the clock, the Gunners could so easily have capitulated. But there was a real fight and desire to this Arsenal side that has not really been evident since their hard earned 1-1 draw with Chelsea back in November.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that, just as the was the case against the Blues four months earlier, Wubben-Moy was Arsenal’s standout performer. She typified their fighting spirit as the Gunners held firm for a full half an hour to preserve a clean sheet despite their player deficit.
“Oh my goodness, the clean sheet!” The England international exclaimed when asked whether her goal or the clean sheet when down to 10 players felt better. Never before has a cup of tea been so well earned.