Following Arsenal Women’s flying start to the season, boss Joe Montemurro extended his contract with the club last week, adding to the feelgood factor permeating the club. The Australian put pen to paper just a couple of days after his Gunners side crushed defending champions Chelsea 5-0 on their own patch. Tim Stillman caught up with Joe about his new deal exclusively for Arseblog News.
This week, Arsenal Women boss Joe Montemurro put pen to paper on a new long-term contract as Gunners boss. The Australian has hugely impressed in his 11 months in North London, winning the WSL Continental Cup and leading the Gunners to the FA Cup Final last season. But Arsenal have gone up a level at the beginning of 2018-19, obliterating every team that dare cross their path.
Montemurro has caught the eye with his attention to detail and tactical shape shifting. The manager revealed that talks over a contract extension started at the end of last season, “Talks have been ongoing over the last few months, since the season finished last year. Negotiations were happening and we decided that now was the right time to do it.”
— Arsenal Women (@ArsenalWFC) October 17, 2018
Joe is a man that does not wear the Arsenal badge lightly, in every interview, he talks passionately about the ‘Arsenal brand’ and about the role that he and his squad play as ambassadors for Arsenal Football Club. The frequency with which he makes these allusions is hypnotising. “I’m honoured and blessed to be the man to take this team forward and representing such a great club. I am just enjoying myself here, every day,” he affirms.
I ask Joe whether he has spoken to Raul Sanllehi and Vinai Venkatesham about their vision for Arsenal Women, with AWFC Chairman Ivan Gazidis departing for Italy. “The vision will be no different to what it has been with Ivan,” he insists. “It’s one of the elite teams, it’s an important part of the Arsenal brand.”
One imagines that Vinai and Raul would find it easy to warm to Joe and the sincere way in which the Australian of Italian descent consistently refers to Arsenal as a global institution. “My job is to make sure the players represent this world renowned badge with the football we play and also the respect and integrity that we play with. Raul and Vinai are totally supportive of the direction we are going in.”
But Joe is no boardroom glad-hander. One thing that has struck me since his arrival is how firmly and sincerely his players believe in him and the generosity with which they talk about his influence. Words are cheap of course, contract renewals less so. Since the New Year; Sari van Veenendaal, Emma Mitchell, Leah Williamson, Danielle van de Donk, Jordan Nobbs, Katie McCabe, Louise Quinn and Dominique Bloodworth have inked new terms.
— Leah Williamson (@leahcwilliamson) October 17, 2018
The formula is no secret, Montemurro explains, “When players believe in what we’re doing and they’re committed to the cause, they enjoy it. We try to do things with honesty and integrity and that shows in the brand of football we play.” Montemurro’s vision is of a relatively small squad with a clutch of multi-functional players, where the girls are capable of playing in a variety of roles. In the 6-0 victory over Reading, the Gunners moved to a back 3, for example, in order to invite Reading to press their centre halves, creating space for themselves in midfield.
Joe says the quality of the players available to him makes this a much more viable option for him. “The work that we’ve been doing leads to an easy transition when we have to change things on the pitch. We stick to our style and our philosophy, our possession based game and we’re proactive and the speed which we have been doing that is fantastic.
“We’ve got a fluid squad where players can play three or four positions. This is work we did last year and it was really important work. We’ve seen Lisa Evans play as full-back, she can play as a winger, Katie McCabe can play wide or as a full-back or inside as a midfielder. Danielle van de Donk can play as a holding midfielder, but also as a winger or as a number 10,” he explains.
“It’s what we’ve planned for and it’s important to the balance of the squad and it’s important to my philosophy of play, because that fluidity is tough to mark for the opposition.” Central to his tactical tinkering is the emphasis Joe and his backroom staff put on video analysis, probing the opposition for weaknesses and tailoring his setup accordingly.
First time finish from Miedema ?@ArsenalWFC are now leading 4-0 against Reading
— The FA Women's Super League (@FAWSL) October 21, 2018
Following the 9-0 win over Lewes in September, Dominique Bloodworth told Arseblog News the move to a back 3 with wing-backs was a direct response to Lewes’ susceptibility to overloads in wide areas. After the 5-0 rout of Chelsea, Jordan Nobbs explained to us that she had been moved a little higher up the pitch as a support striker to start the press. Arsenal had identified that Chelsea’s centre halves were potentially weak in transition, a flaw the Gunners exploited again and again.
During the summer, Arsenal hired Australian Aaron D’Antino as assistant manager. D’Antino recently spent 4 years as Melbourne Victory’s Head of Performance Analysis. “I pretty much headhunted Aaron from Australia,” Joe reveals. “I know him and his work very well as an analyst. But he’s also a great coach and a great exercise physiologist as well. He fits the Arsenal mould and the Arsenal attitude in terms of his character and we’re grateful to have him here.”
Analysis of the opposition has formed a significant part of the Gunners setup this season. “We tinkered a little with opposition video analysis last year, but then brought it in fully in pre-season,” Montemurro points out. “But it’s part of the bigger philosophy, it’s part of the little changes we make according to the game. The style of football doesn’t change, but it’s about understanding the spaces a little better and finding more passing lines and more lines of press.”
Arsenal’s early season form has seen them made title favourites, but the Australian is not getting carried away with early season promise just yet. “Each week we believe in our football and that we have what it takes to ruthless in what we want to do. We don’t know what can happen in the long run, sometimes there are situations and moments that happen that change games and seasons,” he reflects.
“But the important thing is that we’ve got the base and we’ve got the foundations to understand what we’re doing. This lead up to Christmas is huge and if we want to win the league, we have to take pressure off ourselves by being ruthless in this part of the season.” With 5 victories and 27 goals scored in their first 5 games this season, ruthlessness is the least of their problems currently. Tying Joe Montemurro down to a new contract is another well-constructed move that fans of Arsenal Women to sit back and admire.