With 14 goals and 10 assist in the Premier League this season, Riyad Mahrez has proven he is very dangerous.
In fact, he may well be the most dangerous player in England’s top flight. Only three players have scored more goals than Mahrez in the Premier League this season, only one player (Arsenal’s Mesut Özil) has created more. The Algerian’s 24 direct contributions to goals is unrivalled in the league.
But Arsenal shouldn’t be worried about that. Not one bit.
Playing from the right, Mahrez has incredibly quick feet. His technical ability is very good and his passing is excellent, but he won’t get any space to breathe up against Nacho Monreal. Fortunately for the Gunners, they have the best fullback in England to try and keep Leicester’s talisman quiet.
Monreal arrived in London three years ago, and instantly looked like a reliable player. Unfortunately, the Gunners had an unstable an unreliable defence at the time and it wasn’t easy for a player who didn’t speak English to settle in to a poor structure.
Throughout the 2013/14 season, the Spaniard found himself playing second fiddle to Kieran Gibbs, but his breakthrough came unexpectedly during the following campaign. A defensive crisis saw Monreal play at centre-half where, to the surprise of most people, he proved to be very adept. Returning to left-back in the winter, he was better than ever.
The spell in the middle alongside Per Mertesacker made Nacho a much more assertive defender, imposing himself to defend the ball with more purpose. Defending on the front foot, he wouldn’t sit off his wingers any longer, never sacrificing ground. It’s paid off, and he’s become one of the finest defenders in England.
Going forward he’s also excellent, even in huge games. In 2015 he won a penalty at Manchester City and scored at Manchester United – crucial attacking contributions. Not as quick as Gibbs, Monreal is more effective as he times his bursts forward to perfection, confusing the opposition backline with his cutting runs. Crucial to Arsenal’s possession game with his classy first touch and intelligent choice of pass, he doesn’t disappoint in attacking situations, getting his head up and picking the right ball.
Not only could he keep Mahrez quiet on Sunday afternoon, he could also give him a lot to think about running back towards his own goal. The battle between two of the Premier League’s in-form players could decide the fate of the game, and I’m happy we’re the ones with Monreal on our side.