On Sunday, Joe Montemurro took charge of his first match as Manager of Arsenal Women. He saw his side defeat Sunderland 3-1 at Meadow Park in the quarter-final of the FAWSL Continental Tyres Cup (the women’s league cup equivalent). Tim Stillman caught up with Joe for Arseblog News post match to talk about the game, his approach, his aspirations for the season and his biggest challenges in the Arsenal hotseat.
It’s about twenty minutes into Joe Montemurro’s first game in charge of Arsenal, the ball trickles towards Gunners ‘keeper Sari van Veenendaal just outside of her penalty area. Two Sunderland players approach. Sari takes a touch to control, “Keep the ball! Keep the ball!” comes the instruction from the dugout.
Sari passes calmly to her left to Emma Mitchell, to whom the hunting Sunderland attackers turn their attention, deep in Arsenal territory. The voice with an unmistakably Australian timbre sounds again from the touchline, “Keep the ball!” Mitchell, van Veenendaal and Janssen play a neat passing triangle and Arsenal are away from trouble.
Montemurro has already been clear that his vision involves control through possession and if there was any doubt to the clarity of that vision, he dispelled it during Arsenal’s win over the Black Cats. Sporting some stylish Clark’s desert boots and rolled up jeans, Montemurro’s touchline presence is not as casual as his attire.
He is constantly on his feet, issuing technical instructions. “Start demanding it,” he says sternly but calmly to Dutch striker Vivianne Miedema midway through the first half. “When the wide players have it, demand it,” he repeats, emphasising the word ‘demand’. Within ten minutes, Miedema has doubled Arsenal’s lead, heading home a Dan Carter cross from the left.
In fact, both of Arsenal’s opening goals emanate from service out wide. Lisa Evans, usually an attacking right winger, played the game at right-back and she combines with Heather O’Reilly on the right flank to tee up Jordan Nobbs’ opener. “It’s something we pinpointed,” Montemurro confirms to me after the game.
“We looked to find overloads in certain areas and it worked today.” Any seasoned watcher of Arsenal will tell you that chance conversion has been something of a long standing issuefor the girls and it’s one Joe is aware of, “It was a pity we didn’t find the rewards for all of our good play. We had some amazing passages of play but we didn’t finish them off and that’s a big part of the game.”
Montemurro was satisfied with the win over Sunderland, but he hints at a little dissatisfaction that Sunderland were briefly allowed back into the game at 2-1. “It was a good hit out. I think you could see in the second half the effects of not playing for three or four weeks. The way we want to play is to dominate teams and we can’t just do that for a half, we need to do it for 90 minutes. We’re working towards that continuity.”
It’s not just a new team that Montemurro is adjusting to, but a new country. It’s the first time the Australian has coached outside of his native land. As I meet him in the (uncovered) interview area at Meadow Park, he immediately ushers me inside, next to the referee’s room. “The weather is a little different in Melbourne in December,” he jokes, referencing the sheets of icy rain that have been falling all afternoon.
Yet the conditions are an improvement on the previous Sunday, when heavy snowfall means the match against Liverpool that was supposed to be Joe’s maiden match as Arsenal manager was postponed. “We were very disappointed, but it is what it is, we have to put up with the snow and the cold,” he reflects.
“We can’t control those things. It was frustrating because we were prepared and in a good frame of mind to play the Liverpool game. But it gave us an extra week to work on some things.” One of the issues Montemurro will look to correct longer term is finding a balanced team. Arsenal have a large squad of top level internationals, but they struggled to find a settled line up under previous boss Pedro Losa.
“We need to find balance in all areas of the pitch and in the squad,” Joe points out, before again referencing his vision for total football. “We want players to have an all round game too, where defenders can be midfielders and midfielders can become attackers, we want defenders to be comfortable wide and centrally. It’s a big job and one of my biggest challenges is to stabilise that.”
Arsenal have not played in the Champions League since 2014 and qualifying for the competition again is one of the new boss’ big priorities (the top 2 qualify in the WSL). “We’re in every competition and we feel we’ve created a really good base to have a good crack at all of them. But we know that the Champions League is where Arsenal should be, so that’s a huge target.”
On a personal level, the 48 year-old describes the opportunity to manage Arsenal in hushed tones, “I’m still in awe of being here, it’s an amazing club from the little things right to the big, structural things. It’s an amazing experience and I hope it continues for me and the club and I am relishing the challenge.”
We part ways with a warm handshake, “Hope you got everything you needed,” he offers affably. I think I understood Montemurro’s managerial philosophy before we meet in person, as I observe him in the dugout and hear his opening instructions to his players. “Keep the ball!” and then, “start demanding it.”
With thanks to @kunjanmalde for the photos, reproduced with her kind permission.