When it was announced early on the 16 February that the Women’s FA Cup fifth round tie between Arsenal and Lewes set to take place later that day was to be Storm Dennis’ next casualty, it was disappointing to say the least, with the reality of a second postponement in two weeks sinking in for all parties involved.
However, whilst for Lewes the possibility of financial implications loomed, for Arsenal it ultimately proved to be a blessing in disguise with the rescheduled game, which took place last Sunday, a week after its original date, seeming to provide the ideal preparation for what will arguably be the biggest game of Arsenal’s season so far; this weekend’s FA Women’ Continental League Cup final against Chelsea.
When speaking to FAWSL Full-Time following the conclusion of last weekend’s tie, from which Arsenal advanced to quarter-finals after defeating Lewes 2-0, manager Joe Montemurro attested to this, telling us “You can do so much at training but it is the games that give you that stimulus that you need.
“It was the perfect scenario to get that tempo and that rhythm going and to work on the shape and the spaces in terms of going into a cup final next week.”
It was a game in which The Gunners had to dig deep and show their quality against a Lewes defence whose discipline and determination did not waver for 90 minutes, something Montemurro was quick to give them great credit for when speaking to us. However, Montemurro believes that finding a way around this challenge not only allowed them to win the tie, but will also be beneficial in their preparation for the weekend, explaining that at half-time he spoke to his players about ‘understanding where we could have punished them a lot earlier and the areas we could have built up a lot quicker and [how we could] hopefully stretch them a bit more [in the second half]’.
A faster start will undoubtedly be vital to The Gunners’ chances on Saturday, especially against a Chelsea attack that have been so formidable this season, putting three goals past Arsenal in the opening 20 minutes of their last encounter.
Montemurro also spoke about how he saw the Lewes tie as ‘a leading game into next week’s final’ in terms of managing the fitness of his players and making sure they are all ready for the weekend.
With first team regulars Beth Mead, Lia Walti and captain Kim Little all confirmed to be out of the final due to injury, making sure that the rest of the squad is healthy will be vital, especially after Chelsea manager Emma Hayes revealed in her pre-match press conference that she has a fit and healthy squad going into the weekend.
Montemurro discussed how the game against Lewes allowed him and his staff to manage the load of his players individually, he said “We had to get some match minutes into some players leading into next week’s game. Some players are still recovering a little bit more from [the midweek game against] Liverpool and some needed to play a little bit more.
“We wanted to get everyone to the same level of load and tempo and sort of in the right mind frame for the game next Saturday.”
Though Montemurro will be unable to call upon some of his key players this Saturday, he will certainly be boosted by the recent arrival of new signing Caitlin Foord, who will be high in confidence after scoring on her debut to break the deadlock against Lewes. Whilst she is still only settling in and the final may be too soon for her peak form, the versatile forward will still be fundamental to Arsenal’s chances.
On her performance against Lewes and how useful she will be to this Arsenal side, Montemurro said “There was some vintage Caitlin Foord in there, she’s very, very good with her back to goal and running at players, her defensive qualities were very good also.
“She’ll find the rhythm, she’ll find the spaces, she’s only been here a week so she’ll get used to the higher tempo, it’s a more ball possession tempo than what she’s used to in the US which is more transitional so I think we are going to see a player that will be very valuable to us.”
All-in-all, the tie’s rescheduling undoubtedly brought about a silver lining for Montemurro and Arsenal, who now shift their full focus to this weekend and what will be one of their best chances for silverware this season, with their quest to retain their FA Women’s Super League title now looking unlikely and certainly out of their control.
The 2020 Women’s Continental Cup Final between Arsenal and Chelsea takes place this Saturday, the 29th February. The game is taking place at The City Ground, the home of Nottingham Forest FC, with kick-off at 5:30pm.