Joe Montemurro is confident Arsenal’s Women’s Champions League campaign will not reach the end of the road when his team returns on Saturday in a high-stakes one-off quarter-final against Paris Saint-Germain at the Anoeta Stadium in San Sebastian.
“As a manager, you want to bring your group and your people to the best tournaments in the world,” said Montemurro. “And the Champions League is the best club tournament in the world. We’ve done well to get to the quarter-final stage, I really do believe that we can go further in this tournament.”
PSG, twice finalists, will arrive for the streamlined tournament in Spain with an edge having worked off the rust in two French Cup games this month, including a tense loss to Lyon on penalties in the final after a 0-0 draw. Arsenal have not competed since 29 February when they lost 2-1 to Chelsea in the FA Women’s Continental Cup final.
“The first thing we tried to do was get as many practice games as we could from that perspective,” said Montemurro of navigating lockdown. “The second thing was to make sure that when we did start training there was a lot of work done before, a couple of months of a lot of individual work where they came in at a good level and in good shape so that was a really, really important facet of our buildup. From day one, we’ve just kept the standards very, very high.”
Much has changed in the 10 months since Arsenal demolished Slavia Prague to reach this round. They return emboldened by a group of defence-minded signings that will provide both quality and depth to a small squad. The two new Australian players, left-back Steph Catley and goalkeeper Lydia Williams, are joined by the Swiss duo of right-back Noelle Maritz from Wolfsburg and 20-year-old defensive midfielder Malin Gut. Montemurro points out the necessity of keeping one eye on the future.
“I think in all honesty, we were getting a little bit older, we were getting in the years that probably players have to start looking at other situations,” he said. “My intention always was in year two or three to start putting those faces in place. Because I won’t be here all my life.”
Arsenal were big losers from the cancellation of last season’s WSL due to coronavirus as they finished third and outside the Champions League places. If they wish to participate in next season’s Champions League, the 2007 champions must win it again.
“We know PSG has the big guns, players that are on a world scale and they are experienced also,” said Montemurro . “But I really do think that the tough WSL is what’s going to hold us in good stead. We have to always put in consideration that the French league is what it is, there’s three or four top competitive teams, and then the rest, they are what they are, whereas I still believe the WSL has seven or eight teams who on the day, can beat the top sides. So I really do think that we’re prepared mentally for whatever they bring to us.”