by Matthew Wade
On Monday night I attended the launch event of the Arsenal home kit for the 2015/16 season, and beforehand was fortunate enough to be one of six people interviewing much improved left back, and minor cult figure, Nacho Monreal.
The 29-year-old Spaniard was charming, honest and good humoured, and was rather less magnolia than we’ve come to expect from the current generation of media-trained footballers. Even when giving predictable answers about prioritising the team, he did so with a sincerity and generosity regarding detail that was refreshing. He also shares Santi’s adorable prototypical Spanish trait of suffixing every affirmation with ‘no?’, which can only be commended!
Speaking about the club’s upswing in form in the second half of the season, he found it hard to pinpoint a single cause:
“I don’t know. Its difficult to say something because its true like you say, after Christmas the team was really strong we won 11 games or 12 games in a row, and we were the same players as the beginning of the season, that started the season.”
But he noted that the continued bonding of the players was a positive step.
“For me the most important thing was the atmosphere in the group. It was different from the beginning of the season. I think we have finished it (the season) very good for this reason, because in the group, in the dressing room, the atmosphere is amazing between all (the) players.
“Before, there were different groups. Obviously its normal, because in these things, where there are a lot of people of different countries, it’s normal for example, for the French players to be off on one side (he physically suggests tables), the English players, the Spanish players …But now, we are…there is just one group, and this is very important.”
Nacho was also keen to point out the impact of the club’s improved injury record, echoing the sentiments of the fanbase as a whole.
“And…what more? Well I think the best players finished fit, like Santi, like Mesut, Alexis – and usually when these players are fit, it helps the teams confidence. The team feels that.
“It is very important for us that all players are fit, because the level of the team is high. We are a team who has had a lot of injuries in the last 10 years – every season has had 40, 50 injuries, and the best players. So its impossible to fight to win the Premier League.
“We fight because we are Arsenal, but obviously the level of the team is a bit down. As you say, the second half of the season, we were lucky in this aspect, because in the big moments, the players were fit, most of them. We had two or three different injuries, but it wasn’t like the beginning of the season, you know, when we were 10 players (with injuries). Something’s wrong…”
Sounding increasingly like an Arsenal fan of yore, the Spaniard seemed both exasperated by and at a loss to explain Arsenal’s shocking injury record in recent years. But he was equally perplexed by the dramatic improvement in such matters since Christmas.
“(puffs cheeks out and laughs) No…because the doctors are the same. If we compare last season with this season, we, the club signed one fitness coach, but the rest of the staff is the same.
“The training is the same, everything is the same. So….(shrugs)…It is difficult for me to say. But I don’t know…I don’t know why! (laughs).”
So perhaps those hailing Shad Forsythe as the messiah are wide of the mark! My personal view is that the improved squad depth has helped keep some of the key players out of the infamous ‘red zone’, and that so many of the injuries of previous years were flukes that the luck had to start changing at some point. Either way, Monreal has shown himself to dependable, resilient and incredibly team focused this season, and gave the distinct impression of a man who is a glue in the aforementioned team atmosphere.
He needs a proper song!