Arsenal’s centre-half crisis late into 2014 has given them the best left-back in England.
It’s even being said that Monreal is Arsenal’s most under-appreciated player, and I’m inclined to agree.
With Laurent Koscielny and Mathieu Debuchy injured for the final months of 2014, third choice centre-half Calum Chambers was needed on the right flank. At the time Héctor Bellerín was not yet deemed ready for the first team.
Light on defensive members of the squad, we were left with Chambers, captain Per Mertesacker, and two left-backs.
Of the two, Nacho Monreal was considered more reliable and adept playing centrally – and so it proved.
Before his spell in the middle, Monreal’s time at Arsenal had seen him play second fiddle to Kieran Gibbs. He was the less proactive of the two when defending, and less eye-catching as a result. Sometimes standing off and allowing a winger to get into his stride, Monreal kept his position but left himself exposed to quick players in particular.
Consequentially, Monreal didn’t tend to see too many regular spells in the side. In his first full season at Arsenal, the former Malaga man managed seven consecutive starts (all competitions) at most, a spell beginning at the start of 2014. This sort of rhythm isn’t helpful for any player.
Alongside Mertesacker in the middle of the defence, the Spaniard had no choice but to attack the ball. Mertesacker reads the game but to do so expertly he stands off, and is suited to an aggressive partner.
Now back on the left-hand side of the back four, Monreal’s defensive game has improved significantly. Wilfried Zaha posed some problems at Crystal Palace, but within 10-15 minutes Monreal got to grips with the task at hand, and frustrated the winger for the rest of the afternoon.
Now fully adjusted to the Premier League, Monreal recently told Arsenal.com just how much is thriving,
“I feel really good living in London, I’m very happy living here and playing for Arsenal.
“I think I’m more British now. It’s always difficult, coming to London. It’s another country, another language, different football.”
He has clearly settled into the country now, and it’s his settling into the team that has seen his stock rise.
“I think that I’m playing really well because I’m playing a lot of games. I feel fit and my confidence is very high.
“Every player who plays for Arsenal is here because they are a great player not just good players. You need minutes on the pitch, that is the best way to play well.”
This campaign Monreal has been a much more regular fixture in Arsène Wenger’s starting line-up. Since his last start at centre-half on Boxing Day, Monreal has started 11 of Arsenal’s 14 Premier League games. He also played 90 minutes and scored the crucial opener in the FA Cup win at Old Trafford.
His offensive abilities were underlined further that day after, back in January, he’d won the penalty which gave Arsenal the lead in the other visit we’ve paid to Manchester this season.
Kieran Gibbs is now regularly on the bench, and that is only a compliment to show just how much Nacho Monreal has improved.
Now a part of The Gunners’ best defence, Monreal is a key player.