During the last day of the 2013 January transfer window, Arsenal paid a reported fee of £8.3 million pounds for Spanish left back Nacho Monreal. The signing was met with much exasperation and irritation as most Arsenal fans expected a superstar, and not some unknown Spanish defender who was best known for those maddening ‘Nacho’ puns that got quite tiresome after a while. However, fast forward 2-years and Arsenal fans were venting their displeasure as rumours emerged that Monreal could be departing the club to return back to Spain and Atletico Bilbao. Indeed the sportsbook online betting in August showed odds suggesting the player might move. Well, I’m sorry to say Bilbao fans, but Monreal is ‘Nacho’ man, he’s Arsenal’s.
After his move to Arsenal, Monreal appeared to initially struggle to life in London and became a fall guy for Arsenal fans whenever something went wrong. A misplaced pass or a poorly timed tackle would be met with moans and groans within the Arsenal fan-base and many questions were asked of the Spanish international.
When Monreal arrived from Malaga, the then 26-year-old was seen mostly as cover for the talented yet injury prone Kieran Gibbs. However, after picking up some niggling injuries, Gibbs was forced on the sidelines and the chance emerged for Monreal to establish himself as Arsenal’s number one left back.
During his first spell in the Arsenal team, Monreal had that air of shakiness about him. It wasn’t quite Andre Santos when it came to calamity but at times the Spaniard was caught out by tricky wingers and quite often of the time, found himself in the wrong position. Once again, Monreal’s brief spell of unsteadiness was in no way similar to what Andre Santos put us through in an Arsenal shirt. A left back trying to play like Marc Overmars who had given everyone associated with Arsenal football club, horrific nightmares.
Every team needs a player that will go out onto the pitch and will just do a job consistently of the highest order. Chelsea has Azpilicueta while Manchester City has Zabaleta. For Arsenal’s current crop of players, Monreal is Mr. Consistent. Of course the majority of the time, the praise will go to the players that have scored the goals or dictated the match but most are aware to what Monreal does for Arsenal.
During the Invincible season, Arsenal had players of the highest quality as Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, and Dennis Bergkamp etc put on performances that were a joy to watch. However, when people discuss the invincible era, they usually go onto talk about the difference Henry and co made but rarely has anyone spoken about what Lauren done for that Arsenal side.
The Cameroonian played a significant role in Arsenal making history and became Arsenal’s Mr. Reliable with his consistent performances, marrying excellent technique and distribution along with his appetite for a tackle and a battle. Lauren’s versatility was also valuable. He filled in at left back and across the midfield during his time at Highbury and showed the same calm assurance throughout every position.
Monreal can be likened with Lauren, as the Spaniard shares the same appetite to not back down from a battle and continues to perform at such an astute level.
When Arsenal struggled with injuries to Laurent Koscielny and co last season, they had a defensive headache at the back. However, luckily enough for Arsene Wenger, he had Monreal, who was more than equipped to play centre back for a brief spell. His performances in a position that was fairly new to him were performed to the highest level as he established a good partnership with fellow team-mate Per Mertesacker.
It must have come as a shock to the Spaniard, but he adapted impressively to the new position. Monreal’s brief spell in the centre showed the Arsenal fans and crucially, Wenger of his intelligent positional play and man-marking skills. Although at times he struggled with the league’s dominant forwards I.E. Gomis, the 29-year-old full-back adapted surprisingly well to the physical nature of the role.
For a player it can be difficult being deployed out of position as it can damage a player’s confidence. Arsenal fans have witnessed this with Arshavin as the Russian endured a horrible spell as a winger that precipitated the decline in form that led to his release from the club. Monreal’s career might have gone the same way as his transition from reserve left-back to emergency centre-back might have been too much for him to handle.
However, the much relied upon defender responded to the adversity superbly, showing a toughness that he retained when restored to his preferred position which was left back. Ever since his experiences as a centre back, Monreal has transformed as a player and has developed into Arsenal’s finest performers.
One of his highlights in the FA QF at Old Trafford
Back in the 2013-2014 season, Monreal won just 43% of his aerial battles. His improvement since then has been a stark contrast to his early days at the club. Remarkably, it all stems from that spell at centre back as it fastened up his acclimatisation to the Premier League and readied him for the physical battering that would occur.
Alongside Monreal’s defensive qualities, the 29-year-old unbelievably had the highest passing accuracy in last year’s Champions League, despite the fact that the Gunners only reached the last-16.
Make no mistake about it; Nacho Monreal in 2-years has developed from an awkward looking footballer to a finely composed defender. Kieran Gibbs will have to bide his time while the Spanish left-back reaps the benefits of his eye-catching transformation into a highly reliable defender. After all, he is Arsenal’s unsung hero.