Joe Montemurro, the Arsenal head coach, has become the first Women’s Super League manager to claim the lengthy coronavirus-enforced hiatus has “taken its toll” on players.
The Gunners have suffered a spate of injuries ahead of their North London derby against Totteham on Sunday with Jordan Nobbs, Kim Little, Steph Catley and Lisa Evans all nursing muscle problems. Jen Beattie has also been absent due to a calf injury, while striker Jill Roord remains sidelined with a knee injury.
Montemurro revealed the club is conducting a “massive internal review” in the wake of the injury spike, which he has attributed to a condensed playing schedule after the curtailed WSL 2019-20 season. Unlike the Premier League, the women’s top-flight ended after the pandemic took hold in March this year after not having the capacity to test players.
“I do have a sort of feeling that professional athletes being out of the game for six months, in terms of the impact, in terms of just the moment, the decision making, the different scenarios in terms of football pressure and football environments as opposed to isolated training, has taken its toll,” said Montemurro.
“One of the things we’ve tried to do from day one was to simulate and integrate real football situations as much as we could. Was it difficult getting games? It was difficult getting big games and simulating high pressure situations because a football moment is different to replicating it in training and replicating it on your own at home. The turns are different, the ball travels differently, the grass is different, the pressure is different, so we’d just try to replicate that as much as we can.”
Unlike other WSL clubs, Arsenal’s post-lockdown playing schedule included a rescheduled Champions League quarter-final defeat against Paris Saint-Germain in late August, which coincided with the end of their pre-season. The team also suffered further misfortune in their rescheduled FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City earlier this month.
“The pre-season was different, definitely. Has there been an impact because there was an immediate accumulation of games? Possibly, yes. We need to look at it and be better because it’s an area where we are a little bit concerned,” added Montemurro.
“We do a lot of individual strength testing and to know where their deficiencies are, whether they have calf problems. This season, for some reason, it has reared its head. Is it load management? Possibly. Is it the accumulation of games? Possibly. Is it the long pause of games and now, suddenly, there are lots of games and there is the stress of real-game situations as opposed to training at home alone? Possibly.”