Football is a team game where on-pitch partnerships and tactical instruction are of crucial importance. This point is even more evident in analysing a team’s defence: a mistake in the defensive third resonates with the fan-base and is more likely to be seen in isolation, leading to blame being placed on a single player. Midfield cover, planned defensive contingencies, and encouraging attackers into certain areas of the pitch or onto their weaker foot are just some of the reasons it’s difficult to analyse defenders in isolation. Defending is mainly done as a team and squads are drilled as such in training.
I’m going to make an exception in the case of Nacho Monreal. Why you may ask? He bloody well deserves it.
Like many other Arsenal fans, I had my doubts when Monreal signed from Malaga in January of 2013. He seemed to lack decisiveness in the challenge, was a step slow in his pace of play, and didn’t measure up physically to his Premier League peers. Maybe it was the 6 appearances in the ‘14-’15 season at CB in a back 4 or the general acclimation process that most new players encounter when coming to England, but the last few seasons have seen Nacho Monreal establish himself as one of our most essential players.
Nacho rarely gets the praise he deserves for his technical game. His body shape and close control in tight areas allow him to be a reliable link-man in close distance passing combinations. His teammates trust him when they are looking for a passing option, but are also confident in his ability to retain possession, meaning they are free to make advanced attacking runs.
Efficiency of Game
Nacho’s overall game is predicated on precision with little wasted movement and energy. As a result, he does little that is overly pleasing to the eye, but all teams need players that display consistency through efficiency. It is most evident when analyzing his passing and defensive statistics. In the 7 Premier League games this season, he has displayed 92.1% passing efficiency and averaged 1.71 tackles and 3.14 interceptions per game.
The Game Reader
Like our big F’in German, Per Mertesacker, Nacho can read the game around him incredibly well. Unlike Per, he can cover wide areas and do so while defending on the front foot. He has a skill set that is tailor made for his current LCB role. He has been receiving plaudits, and deservedly so, for his performance and goal against Brighton. It was his display against West Brom the week prior that better signified his importance to the team: 5 tackles, 6 interceptions, and that vital goal-line clearance.
Below is an example of his game reading against Leicester City in our opening fixture. Without his intervention, Arsenal do not score before halftime:
A Balanced Defender
Nacho has provided a stability to our defensive backline for the better part of 3 seasons. Simply stated, he knows when to sit and when to push forward. One of the most common criticisms of Arsenal in the second half of the Wenger-era has been the concession of goals due to fullbacks being caught high up the pitch. Nacho has been able to strike this balance better than most.
His goal against City playing as a LWB in the FA Cup semi-final last year is a clear example of his decision making. Asked to defend first and foremost, he makes the right run at the most opportune time to find us an equalizer:
Quietly, Nacho Monreal has cemented himself as a valuable member of the starting XI. The 31-year-old has seemingly gotten better with age and has refined his craft over the years. He deserves the praise he’s been receiving at the start of the season, it’s just a shame it’s taken so long for many to realize his importance.
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