Nobody ever stood still and continued to succeed, so it’s no surprise to see FA Women’s Super League leaders Arsenal already strengthening their squad just a week into the midseason transfer window.
After somewhat of an injury crisis before Christmas, the once comfortable league leaders have had their margin cut to zero, hanging onto their status as the number one side in the country by their goal difference over chasing Manchester City, plus a crucial game in hand still to come.
Joe Montemurro was down to the bare bones before what was a much-needed winter break and the cracks shattered when they lost, 2-0, to their title rivals, ending their unbeaten run of nine consecutive wins in a game in which they had to hand a first professional start to youngster Paige Bailey-Gayle.
After several weeks off and players being given a slightly extended break over Christmas, the pressure should ease slightly with only Jordan Nobbs now likely to be the only long-term casualty.
The influential Kim Little is back in training while Montemurro will hope to soon be able to call on summer signings Viktoria Schnaderbeck and Tabea Kemme, also nursing injuries.
But keen to not let their first potential FA WSL title since 2012 slip through their fingers after a more-than-impressive first half of the season, Montemurro has swooped early to sign Danish duo Janni Arnth and Katrine Veje.
Arnth, 32, is an experienced center back joining from Swedish side Linköpings FC while 27-year-old left winger Veje moves to England after an unsettled spell at Montpellier in the Division 1 Féminine.
The duo is experienced with close to 200 international caps between them; Veje earned her 100th cap late in 2018 under new head coach Lars Søndergaard.
It’s easy to point and say they are simply “depth” signings with Arsenal struggling to fill their bench before Christmas but the reality is Arsenal is signing two seasoned internationals who have played for top sides around Europe and further afield, as well as part of a Denmark side that reached the Euro 2017 final.
Arnth, a ball-playing center back, has competition in Leah Williamson and Louise Quinn as the more established starting pairing for Arsenal this season with Schnaderbeck also set to join the pack once she’s fully fit.
For Veje, the picture is less clear. The left-footed winger is primarily just that — a winger — but has occasionally played at left back at different points during her career.
Previous Denmark head coach Nils Nielsen regularly utilized Veje as a left winger during their run to the final in 2017 against the Netherlands, while Arnth was relegated to the bench apart from playing in a three-back during the first group game.
Søndergaard, though, has more regularly used a 3-5-2/3-4-3 system for his side, with Arnth as the most central center back to take advantage of her comfort on the ball while Veje has been a regular as the left wingback.
Montemurro has often talked about his desire for tactical flexibility in his side and on occasion has himself used a 3-5-2 system to good effect; in the two league games this season Arsenal lined up in such a system they beat Reading 6-0 and Bristol City 4-0, while they also used the formation in several cup matches.
In both games, Lisa Evans was used as one of the wingbacks. Evans is a player similar to Veje in that she is a winger by trade often used in a more defensive role, so the in-between role of wingback has ensured she’s become a regular part of Montemurro’s plans.
But on the left side it’s less clear. Striker Beth Mead has played the role, as has Evans, but usual left back Emma Mitchell was preferred as the third center back rather than being used on the wing.
Kemme, not yet fit, could play that role but it’s easy to wonder if the two signings are just coincidence or are they a part of a move that will see Montemurro use a system Chelsea won the league with last season, going unbeaten for the full campaign.
It may be that it signals neither possibility and that it just gives Montemurro more options whichever formation he decides upon for any particular game. Should the Australian stick with his preferred 4-3-3, Veje can take on the left wing role as an actual left-footed left winger or play at left back in place of Mitchell, though there are questions about her defensive qualities.
Arnth is comfortable in a two or a three and the main praise for her comes in her comfort on the ball, similar to new teammate Williamson. With Montemurro regularly intent on starting Pauline Peyraud-Magnin in goal in an almost sweeper keeper role, it’s no surprise he’s added more players who are comfortable playing out from the back and into the midfield.