Arsenal could only draw 1-1 away to Reading in a disjointed and rusty performance at the weekend.
The result now makes qualification for the Champions League a bit more complicated and means all remaining games are more or less must win to finish third.
There were a few surprises in the starting XI due to what happened during the Christmas period. Some players needed to self isolate last week alongside the player that tested positive. So, Joe Montemurro decided to go with the players who had presumably the highest fitness levels.
He went with a back three line-up, exactly the same as he used in the home game with an excellent 6-1 result.
So, the starting XI in a 3-4-3 was Zinsberger; Patten, Wubben-Moy, McCabe; Wälti, Gut, Little, Rood; Evans, Miedema, van de Donk. There was a really strong bench featuring a mix of players who had to self-isolate and those coming back from injury.
It is good to note that there are only three players injured right now: Viktoria Schnaderbeck, Steph Catley and Jordan Nobbs, who was rested for the game due to an “injury”
Unlike the home game, the start was a disaster with an early goal conceded from a set piece. A marking error after only five minutes meant the team gave themselves a mountain to climb.
The first half was really laboured, most of the time the players looked like strangers who were playing together for the first time. The lack of familiarity with the system was quite evident.
Thankfully, Kim Little was there to hold the ball and control the game, because the rest of the team did not really help much up against very good pressing from Reading.
They are a side that are well prepared defensively and the Gunners found it really hard to break their press and find space. It is really hard to develop quality football when half of team is not at the races and players are rusty. Slow decision making and misunderstandings were there in the first half and it was no surprise that Joe Montemurro made a triple change at half-time with the score at 1-1.
On came Jennifer Beattie, Leah Williamson and Beth Mead, off came Anna Patten, Lotte Wubben-Moy and Malin Gut, the three youngest members of the squad on the pitch. There was certainly an improvement with more familiarity on the pitch in a well known 4-3-3 system with three more senior players involved.
There were a few more chances created overall with Miedema and Roord close to scoring the winning goal, as well as a penalty shout that could have been given by VAR. But overall, the general performance was not at the required standard for the reasons explained above.
With an extra week of team training, the players fitness level should go up. The pass and move game should return. Mental and physical sharpness should come back to a proper level against West Ham in five days. Then, the home game against City on 7 Feb will be crucial and the team should be prepared well enough for the last chance saloon.
On the question of Joe Montemurro leaving, my view, and I know many fans disagree, is absolutely not.
He should stay until the end of the season and the situation is reviewed with regards to Champions League qualification.
If we qualify, he should definitely stay imo, unless players want him out.
Should we fail to qualify, the club might see it as the end of the cycle and bring someone new in like Jayne Ludlow, who is now free.