Outgoing manager Montemurro will leave the Gunners in a better position than when he took over in November 2017 but the former WSL champions now need a coach who can outfox big-spending Chelsea and Man City, writes Rich Laverty.
The timing of Arsenal announcing boss Joe Montemurro’s impending departure may have come as a surprise but the end of this season is the right moment for both to part company.
With the club having stagnated under Pedro Losa and not won a league title since 2012, it didn’t take Montemurro long to change the club’s fortunes. But now even he too has succumbed to the constant progression of Chelsea and Manchester City, while also being challenged by the up-and-coming Manchester United team.
In 2016, Arsenal handled the departures of Casey Stoney, Rachel Yankey, Emma Byrne and Kelly Smith as well as they could have, and at the time were one of the biggest spenders in the league.
They also sought talented youngsters such as Beth Mead, while bringing back already established club legend Kim Little as one of the best paid players in the league.
After Vivianne Miedema was added a year later, the Gunners looked to have everything in place, they just needed the right manager, and when Montemurro arrived halfway through the 2017-18 season, it took him just 18 months to win the league.
With 18 wins and just two losses, both against other top sides in City and Chelsea, his title success was not just dominant, it was brutal. His side scored 70 goals – 17 more than Man City and 24 more than Chelsea – and finished seven points clear of their nearest challengers.
Each game was more relentless than the next; the 5-0 against Liverpool, the 4-0 at Everton, and the 5-0 demolition of Chelsea at Kingsmeadow. The Arsenal man himself could do no wrong, playing the best football Arsenal fans had seen in years and guiding them to their first league title in six years.
But as has so regularly happened throughout the 10 years of the FA WSL, the progression stopped once the success had been and gone. As Chelsea and Man City sought to end Arsenal’s relentless stride towards more league and cup success, Arsenal backtracked. While Montemurro has to take some criticism for this, particularly for poor big game performances and some bizarre tactical selections, he has also seen his two major rivals go out and spend like no other English team has done in the current era of the women’s game.
Whether it has been Pernille Harder and Sam Kerr, or Rose Lavelle and Sam Mewis, Arsenal just haven’t matched their rivals. Interestingly the club’s chief executive confirmed they will review the whole women’s team programme while finding Montemurro’s successor. One will hope they realise they need to once again loosen the purse strings to go into battle next season, with Champions League football very much on the line.
It would be hard to argue Montemurro’s time in charge hasn’t been a success. The FA WSL title was the icing on the cake, as well as winning a Continental Cup, reaching three more finals, and winning several individual awards.
After announcing his departure this week, the Australian held a call with the media to discuss his decision and it was clear that it didn’t come easy. Having previously returned to Australia for a similar reason earlier in his Gunners tenure, it was apparent that family time had swayed his decision again on this occasion.
He discussed how surreal it had been to coach his boyhood club and joked about the good times an the bad. Cutting through the hows and whys though, the decision is probably beneficial one, even if it’s made for non-footballing reasons.
What comes next for Arsenal both on and off the pitch is anyone’s guess. Jayne Ludlow’s name has been heavily mentioned and is undoubtedly an option. However, in similar vein to Montemurro, she saw the performances of her Wales side decline towards the end of her time in charge of the national team, so much so they didn’t even make the Euro 2021 play-offs, losing out to lower ranked Northern Ireland.
It would be no surprise if Arsenal cast the net far and wide to find their next coach, as they did when Montemurro was plucked from 10,000 miles away at the end of 2017.
Montemurro being one of the game’s good guys has been said enough times over the past 24 hours, but his departure from the league will indeed be a sad one. There’s still a feeling that, for whatever the reasons, the timing is right not just for him, but for Arsenal too. One thing for certain is that they must get their next moves right, both on and off the pitch, to compete with their big spending rivals.
Follow Rich on Twitter at @RichJLaverty