At the beginning of this season, Gareth Taylor had never managed a senior game. Into February there can be no doubt that despite Taylor’s inexperience—even more so in women’s football, as he was a City U-16 coach—he is a better manager than Joe Montemurro. For a third time this season, Manchester City have beaten Arsenal 2-1. Like the other two games, the scoreline doesn’t reflect City’s superiority, with only last ditch blocks and a couple of good saves from Manuela Zinsberger keeping the scoreline close.
Arsenal and Montemurro can point to injuries. This morning we learned that Jordan Nobbs, Kim Little, and Jen Beattie all sustained muscle injuries in training—a stunning fact, given that Arsenal had not played a game of football in three weeks. Yet this is something that has already happened this season. Montemurro promised an internal review into the training methods. It obviously didn’t work.
So Arsenal were without their best midfield, and without their best midfield, they couldn’t progress the ball meaningfully in the final third. Their goal, a wonderfully taken finish by Caitlin Foord, came in transition, from a Manchester City throw. So did their best chances. Yet despite that, Arsenal didn’t play a high pressing game, to force transitions. Nor did they play with any sort of tempo. Rather, they passed the ball between the back four and deep midfield areas, inviting City’s pressure, and ultimately, losing the ball. It would’ve been surprising had we not seen it before: in the last match, a draw against Reading, in previous defeats against Manchester City and Manchester United. Indeed, despite the frequency of Arsenal losing possession in their own half, they didn’t change the game to force City to face a different problem. They simply did more of the same, and when Lauren Hemp headed home Chloe Kelly’s cross to put City up 2-1, it was a goal that had very much been coming.
Arsenal have now dropped 13 points this year. The chance of finishing in the top 3, and getting a Champions League spot, is seriously in doubt. To do that, Arsenal are going to have to beat either Chelsea away, on Wednesday, or Manchester United, later in the season. Both those teams lost earlier today, to Brighton, and Reading. Manchester United’s loss means that they have dropped 10 points, and they play City on Friday, meaning that, no matter the outcome, there will be potential for Arsenal to regain the 3rd Champions League spot. But ultimately to do that, they will have to do something they have not done under Montemurro since 2019: win a big game.
Ultimately, the WSL is about winning the head to head matches, something they can no longer do under this coaching staff. Once they could, but Montemurro’s formula is no longer working, and after a year of a repeated patten of big defeats and underwhelming performances, it’s hard to see any other conclusion than the obvious one: it’s time for change.