There has been some recent criticism of the Arsenal manager and rightly so on certain occasions as the manager is judged on results, but I have read over-the-top criticism that does not make sense to me as I believe he is still the right fit for the club.
I believe there are two main criticisms of the Australian manager: the style of play and the lack of squad depth.
As we know, he does not move nor compromise on his philosophy and squad size.
Let’s have a look at those two points starting with the small squad size.
Is the current squad size too small?
If we look at Saturday’s Conti Cup final team sheet: yes it is.
I don’t think anyone would disagree with the fact that only having one senior keeper and one senior defender on the bench for a big cup final should not happen.
Of course, we also had one 16-year-old and two 17-year-old players named on the team sheet. But the lack of game time they have received this season, as they still are Academy players, is a clear indication that they are not ready for games at the very top level games.
And this is not a criticism of their ability. At the end of the day, players who are ready for elite football at that age are exceptional talents and they do not come along very often. Those three players named on the bench have huge potential, but you cannot expect them to perform off the bench the same way the Chelsea substitutes, who are seasoned players would have done.
If we go back to the start of the season, the club started with 21 professional contracts with one player, Fran Stenson, going straight on loan to Blackburn Rovers.
So 20 players overall.
That is not a bad number. It means you have to tell two players who have trained the whole time that they will sit in the stands at the weekend. That’s probably one of the toughest parts of football management as mentioned by many top class coaches.
But questions have to be asked about strength and conditioning as the same problem two seasons in a row has occurred with injuries piling up, creating big problems in terms of team selection.
I had previously analysed the squad rotation patterns of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City and the way the squad is managed by Joe Montemurro is correct.
To be clear, a 20-player-squad with fewer injuries would be the right size, but it is not the right one when you have as many injuries as Arsenal have experienced during the season.
The addition of Caitlin Foord during the January transfer window was welcomed, but the Emma Mitchell loan still does not make sense as she would have got more playing time now (with hindsight of course)
Is the manager’s attacking philosophy wrong?
Well, if you like the George Graham’s era with backs-to-the wall defending, great organisation and numerous trophies won, it would be fair for to say that Montemurro is wrong.
If you prefer the Arsene Wenger era with champagne attacking football, good build-up play from the back, midfield creativity and attacking prowess, then Joe Montemurro is the right fit for the club and that’s the way I see it.
As mentioned by Tim who attended the post-match conference, Joe is very clear on his football style: “I am very, very stubborn, I will never play a transition game, it’s not my style, and it’s not my way.
“I believe in having the ball, in the long run. We might get away with playing a transition style once, twice maybe three times, but in the long run I want to keep playing football.
“We have the players here to play football, we have the players to play good football on big occasions. I won’t go away from my style. If it’s the end of me, it’s the end of me, but I have to stay true to my values and Arsenal’s values.”
I definitely believe that his philosophy is in total sync with the club and its values. We are lucky to have a coach who preaches attacking football, ball possession, attacking play through the wing and mixing all those ingredients to make entertaining football.
Should he use more tactical flexibility and the change the team’s identity a little bit?
I see him as similar to Pep Guardiola in terms of mindset. If you read the two excellent books on Pep written by Marti Perarnau, you will understand the way the Catalan manager works and our Joe is very similar.
And, to be fair, he does make changes and tweaks things according to the opposition’s strengths and weaknesses. A long term ball possession attacking philosophy is more likely to bring rewards and win games, in my opinion. There are statistics backing this up, although one-off results will certainly go the other way.
I think fans should remember how the team was playing when Joe arrived and the way he has structured the team and brought many trophies already.
Obviously, no one wants to lose the title and cups, but there is no divine right to win trophies especially when fighting against a top quality side like Chelsea or a good side like Manchester City.
It is obvious that certain things need to improve next season in terms of squad size and injury prevention and management, but overall Joe Montemurro is doing a very good job.