Joe Montemurro admits Arsenal knew about WSL players’ Dubai trip plans

Joe Montemurro has admitted that Arsenal were aware that some of their players were planning a winter break in Dubai before the trip that ended with one of them testing positive for the coronavirus and last week’s visit to Aston Villa postponed, but that such trips will not be tolerated in future either “from a sporting perspective [or] a global morality perspective”.

It had previously been reported that the club had not been informed of the players’ plans, but in the runup to this weekend’s WSL game against Reading the Arsenal manager said that “we had some official scenarios of players going to Dubai” before the government imposed tier 4 restrictions shortly before Christmas.

“There’s obviously disappointment at the situation, the way it panned out,” he said. “From my perspective it’s about the moral compass and the consequences of these situations. The players have apologised, we have dealt with it internally and for me the really important thing is it doesn’t happen again. It’s all about making sure the players understand they are role models, they are in the public eye and we won’t be able to tolerate these sorts of decisions, not just from a sporting perspective but from a global morality perspective.”

The players’ actions had potentially disastrous consequences for vulnerable teammates, including Jen Beattie, who is recovering from breast cancer. “In the moment they probably didn’t think of that,” said Montemurro. “But I can guarantee going forward from now they have understood the effect of their actions, they have understood the repercussions that could have happened.”

The incident brought to a controversial close a difficult 2020, in which Arsenal failed to win a major trophy as well as having to cope with the pandemic. “It’s been a tough time for us, pretty much all of 2020,” Montemurro said. “I’m not saying from a football perspective but from the mental health and wellbeing of the players. That for me is the paramount issue and it’s been tough for a lot of them. We just want to get them excited and get them happy, take care of their welfare and then the football will take care of itself.”

With Covid still increasing in prevalence and the Women’s FA Cup paused for the foreseeable future, the concern is that the WSL will be forced to shut down once again. “It’s a definite possibility,” Montemurro said. “The importance of what’s happening out there and the safety of other people is paramount [and] I wouldn’t be surprised if the league has to look at alternatives.

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“It’s been very difficult from day one to navigate. Every day brings a different challenge, whether it’s a protocol, a training exercise, or players struggling with wellbeing and mental health issues. It’s been very tiring and very difficult and we’ll just have to wait and see how it pans out.”

Montemurro played down rumours that top scorer Vivianne Miedema is in talks with Lyon over a potential transfer. “Viv’s smiling at the moment, we’re in constant contact with her and her agent, and as far as I know she has 18 months on her contract and she’s an Arsenal player,” he said.