Arsenal Women are currently sitting third in the WSL table, 4 points behind league-leaders Manchester United, and one away from reigning champions Chelsea, who possess a game in hand. Whilst third doesn’t sound like the end of the world, there are certainly reasons for concern; only the top 3 teams will qualify for the UEFA Women’s Champions League, and failure to qualify could see star players sniff their noses at opportunities elsewhere.
Certain fans find themselves blaming the man in charge, Joe Montemurro, for a handful of reasons. Should they be targeting their anger elsewhere, or is this criticism warranted? I asked the Arsenal faithful for their honest opinions on the situation at the club right now, and the results tell an interesting story.
Montemurro isn’t approaching games well
For the majority of fans, the Australian’s biggest weakness is his approach to big games. In their three biggest games so far this season, his side have amassed a single measly point, coming against local rivals Chelsea. The taste of these results would be far less sour if the performances left room for optimism, however from line-ups, to in-game management, to post-match discussion, the fans are left as pessimistic as you could imagine.
The team’s approach appears to be reserved and cautious, despite boasting one of the best squad’s in the entire country – Joe Montemurro has a very talented group of girls at his disposal, with two of the undisputed best players in the league in Vivianne Miedema and Kim Little. Despite this, he never seems to field his strongest eleven when the occasion most calls for it.
Perhaps an even greater problem is his in-game management. When things aren’t going to plan, Montemurro is stubborn in his approach, and is reluctant to make substitutions, more often than not resulting in the game being lost when it could have been fought back. This tale was told as recently as yesterday in the Gunners’ 2-1 loss against Manchester City.
After a brilliant goal from Miedema in the 3rd minute, the home side were let back into the game through a towering Sam Mewis header. The pressure was piled onto the visitors, who were struggling to gain any sort of rhythm, and more and more tired legs only made the hill steeper. Steph Catley was introduced in place of Leonie Maier in the 66th minute and, whilst this substitution could have (and should have) made sense, Montemurro didn’t utilise her to the best of her abilities.
A world class left-back, Catley was kept on the right of the back 4, with natural winger McCabe occupying the left side. What would have made more sense here would have been to have players in their natural positions, to give them the best chance of defending a much-needed point. To do this, Montemurro needed to substitute on Evans alongside the Australian international, giving Arsenal a naturally structured back 4.
From here, removing Caitlin Foord (who had a poor game by her high standards) and moving McCabe higher up the pitch would have created an instant balance in the line-up which was obviously missing from the get-go. This criteria was failed, and no more subs were made until the 80th minute, by which Gareth Taylor’s girls were knocking at the door for their eventual winner, coming in extra-time.
Another before-mentioned issue that the fans have taken a distaste to, stems from his comments after the match. Speaking to the press, Montemurro said “It’s obviously mentality, to say okay, we’ll settle for the point, we’re away from home. It’s always going to be a difficult place to win here and I unfortunately can’t keep the ball for them on the pitch. They have to make those decisions on the pitch”.
Shockingly, he sounds very much as though he is placing all of the blame on the players, rather than accepting and owning up to his evident mistakes. It isn’t as though this is the first time his tactics have let him down; Arsenal have a historically poor track record against the bigger teams, which will continue to hinder their chances at European qualification, let alone another WSL title. I am not saying that the girls were perfect throughout the 90, far from it.
However, it appears unprofessional to say that your players were making mistake after mistake and to imply that they weren’t doing what you had ordered them to do. Arsenal’s passing out from the back was notably poor and this was evident very early on in the game but, rather than try a different approach, Montemurro left his team to continue making all the same mistakes for the entirety of the match, and it was these mistakes which ultimately cost them taking home a valuable point, or even better, all 3, in what is proving to be a tight title race this campaign.
In terms of replacement options for the Gunners, a brilliant candidate is glaringly obvious and seemingly available: Jayne Ludlow. The current Wales boss was reportedly all set for a new challenge in East London with West Ham, but with that move appearing to have fallen through, now would be the perfect time for the Arsenal board to act.
It doesn’t seem like action will be taken anytime soon though, with the players and staff seemingly fully behind the Australian, however growing levels of animosity within the fanbase will not go unnoticed- the pressure is piling on Joe Montemurro, and he is creating big problems which require solutions that he doesn’t yet appear to possess the answers to.