The pitch at Leigh Sports Village is seen before the game Manchester United Women v West Ham United Ladies, FA Continental Tyres League Cup Quarter-Final football match, Leigh Sports Village, Leigh, UK - 09 Jan 2019 Photo: Jon Super for The FA

Lining-up against the champions – Manchester United v Arsenal preview

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Manchester United’s women’s team are actually lining-up for another match, a little over a week after their derby defeat against Manchester City.

In spite of the result, the excitement levels are high. Whether that is because of the performance last week, the performance last season across the campaign and specifically in a close match against Arsenal in the semi-finals of the FA Women’s Continental League Cup, or whether because having a women’s round of matches so soon after the other feels like a gift, something to be grateful for and look forward to.
Last season, there were long spells where no matches took place and looking at the calendar this season, whilst this may happen again a few times, it at least looks like the fixture list will bring more regular games and spaced out better rather than having large gaps in between.
I feel that the derby match was a great advert for the sport and from speaking to a number of fans, I feel some who may have been previously unsure or unconvinced are now more willing to give it a go – but beyond a one off big match, proper promotion and fixture arrangement has to be put in place so that the game can continue to grow and attract larger crowds on a consistent basis.
On the pitch, Manchester United will be hoping to build on the positive performance against Manchester City when taking on the champions, Arsenal. There is no bigger test than The Gunners, England’s most successful women’s team.
Looking back at the match between the two last season, it played out in an unusual manner. Before the match, there was talk from commentators (and specifically pro-Arsenal ones) of Arsenal teaching United a lesson and cruising through by three or four goals. This could have happened but the match ebbed and flowed and really could have gone in a different direction.
From memory, United looked a good match for Arsenal in the opening exchanges and held their own, managing to press high and reveal a few nerves in the home side’s camp. A moment of class though turned the match with United’s defence being split open and striker Vivianne Miedema calmly slotting home. This turned the game and United were on the back foot for most of the match afterwards.
Several saves from goalkeeper Siobhan Chamberlain and last ditch tackles were required to keep United in the match, and inevitably Miedema again wriggled her way around the backline before making it 2-0. From there, the predicted riot looked possible – it wasn’t to be though.
United hung on and midfielder Mollie Green struck back to give Casey Stoney’s side a lifeline. The Gunners were rattled and with a possible penalty shout turned down for The Red Devils, it looked like if there were a few more minutes on the clock, Casey Stoney’s team would have found the equaliser and taken the match into extra-time.
Alas, that didn’t happen and the Londoners held on to make it to the final, but just as with last week, there is a feeling that United left the pitch with a lot of positives to ponder as well as food for thought on where improvements could be made.
With the match coming so early in the season, it’s difficult to say whether United will be able to implement the lessons learned, and yes, on that good old paper, Arsenal are by far the better team and could well put United to the sword in a more emphatic way than they did last season or than City did last week – but now is the time to see where United stand. Do we remain with the compliments, which is always nice – or do we fight? Do we win?
By Jack Morris (@ripper48)

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