Joe Montemurro jested that his Arsenal players have started to “draw straws” as Lisa Evans collected the match ball from Arsenal’s third hat‑trick in three games, the Gunners easing past Tottenham into an FA Cup semi-final.
The visitors were largely the architects of their own collapse as two mistakes in two minutes gifted Jordan Nobbs and Evans the goals that would put the 14-times Women’s FA Cup winners into the last four of the delayed competition, with Evans adding two late on to secure a 4-0 win.
“It’s disappointing because at half-time, we really felt we were in the game and the players believed we could go on and potentially do something incredible,” said Spurs’ co-manager Karen Hills. “We’ve frustrated one of the top, top teams, who have scored a lot of goals over the past couple of weeks. But the game is over 90 minutes and unfortunately we could only hold them for 70.”
With the pre-match focus on whether the on-loan Alex Morgan would make her debut, the Orlando Pride striker was sat engulfed in a huge padded coat and snood in the stands, perhaps gaining an impression of how hard it will be to help Tottenham compete with the best biting as much as the cold.
Borehamwood cannot match the sun and warmth of Orlando, but it does have a season of top-flight football under way. In the United States, Pride have four games lined up as part of a mini-season as the NWSL struggles to cope with the pandemic.
“We felt it was really important for her to be around the girls today, to be involved in the match-day preparations, get her the shorts and socks, and just get her mind in a match-day environment,” said Hills of the two-times World Cup winner, who has not played in a year and gave birth to a daughter, Charlie, in May. “Just having someone like that around the changing room is fantastic for the girls. Today it wasn’t meant to be, but her fitness levels are improving all the time, she’s physically in great shape so I don’t think it will be long before we see Alex Morgan.”
Despite having the Dutch record goalscorer, Vivianne Miedema, on the pitch, Arsenal were without a more significant player, in recent weeks at least, with Jill Roord, who scored two hat-tricks in their first two games, out with a knee injury for two or three weeks having picked it up on international duty with the Netherlands.
Heavy favourites, the home side tried to rattle Spurs early on but Hills and co-manager Juan Amoros have built an organised and solid side. The last time these teams met in the FA Cup Arsenal put 10 past their north London rivals. Then, though, it was barely a rivalry, with Spurs competing in the third tier. Now, it is more of a genuine battle. Tottenham have been twice promoted since and compete in the WSL alongside the Gunners.
“We have come a long, long way,” reflected Hills. “We’ve grown and we’ve developed. [In November last year] we held them [for 66 minutes] and sort of got our confidence, our shape and our belief.
As a team we’re moving in the best direction.”
There is still a gap. Last season, there were 16 points separating the sides. At a wet and windy Borehamwood, they held the Gunners for 73 minutes.
Arsenal, though, know how to bide their time with Montemurro crediting his team’s “patience and rhythm” for what, in the end, was perhaps a flattering scoreline.
“These games can get out of hand and become transition games, games where you’re using a lot physically to the detriment of games to come. So I was very, very happy that we didn’t over exert ourselves or get into situations where it could have gotten tricky,” said Montemurro.