Arsenal needed a late strike from Danielle van de Donk to win at Manchester United, as the newly promoted hosts impressed against the defending Women’s Super League champions.
England goalkeeper Mary Earps had produced several fine saves to give Casey Stoney’s team hope of earning their first point as a top-flight club.
But a deflection helped the ball find Van de Donk who fired home in the closing stages, just after her Netherlands team-mate Vivianne Miedema had struck the post.
Last season’s second-tier winners could have won the game themselves, with Arsenal’s Austria international shot-stopper Manuela Zinsberger denying Scotland’s Jane Ross when one-on-one in the second half, but the Gunners were dominant late on and eventually found a way past Earps.
United, promoted from the Championship last term at the first time of asking following the reformation of the club’s senior women’s side in 2018, were playing in their first home game as a WSL club and were backed by a passionate crowd of 2,530 at Leigh Sports Village.
Up against an Arsenal side who impressed in a 4-0 Champions League first-leg win away at Italian side Fiorentina on Thursday, former England centre-back Stoney’s team were well organised and proved difficult for the Gunners to break down, as well as carving out good chances of their own.
England Under-21 international Ella Toone headed just wide from the hosts’ best first-half chance, before England forward Beth Mead’s right-wing corner skimmed the crossbar at the other end as the Gunners edged the latter parts of the opening period.
Joe Montemurro’s Arsenal, who began their WSL title defence with a 2-1 home win over West Ham United on 8 September, gave England star Jordan Nobbs her first start since a serious knee injury last November, and she showed good touches even though the visitors weren’t at their fluid best.
United’s Lionesses keeper Earps, who signed from German club Wolfsburg in the summer, produced fine double saves on two separate occasions, thwarting Miedema just before half-time before keeping out two close-range efforts from Scotland’s Kim Little after the break.
She then reacted well to deny Miedema and Little again late on, before substitute Van de Donk ensured the Gunners maintained their 100% start to the campaign.
United are without a point from their opening two games, following 7 September’s 1-0 loss at local rivals Manchester City, but they have only faced last season’s top two sides so far.