Does anybody remember what Paul Merson said about Arsenal’s Nacho Monreal before our trip to face Chelsea?

I do. He said: “Nacho Monreal wouldn’t get in if I was picking a combined XI against a bottom-half team. That’s not his fault, he’s being played out of position.”

It’s no surprise to find Merson making silly hyperbolic claims about Arsenal players, it’s what he does for a living. To be fair to the former Gunner, he might have been referring to Monreal playing in the centre of a back three, like he did in the first few games of the season.

But in my opinion, once the 31-year-old moves to the left side of the back three, like he has done against Bournemouth, Chelsea and now West Brom, he’s a completely different player.

nacho monreal v leicetser

Against West Brom, Monreal was pretty much perfect. Everyone will talk about his goal line clearance, and we’ll get to that, but it was his overall performance that really impressed me.

First, we should consider what a professional he is. You don’t hear or read anything in regards to the defender complaining on where he’s playing. Wenger has moved him all over the place, resulting in fans getting fed up with the Spaniard. However, Monreal always gives 100% when he’s playing, especially when complaining to the ref with beautiful hand gestures.

Playing in the left centre back position allows Monreal a little more familiarity as it’s closer to his natural left back position, and he sure has adapted to it. I wasn’t surprised with his performance against West Brom, because the week before against Chelsea he was also a standout player.

He made three tackles against Chelsea, being a particular thorn in Willian’s game who struggled to turn whenever he got on the ball due to Monreal’s pressure. He won 75% of his aerial duels as well, including against Morata, which is a part of his game I didn’t think he would be good at.

nacho monreal v west brom

The 31-year-old repeated this feat on Monday night, which should be particularly praised as the whole West Brom team are all tall enough to be centre-backs. Arsenal’s unsung hero also made four interceptions against Chelsea, which he somehow improved against West Brom by making six, the most of the night. This illustrates that even in his new position, he can still read the game and capitalise on any poor passes.

Speaking of passes, Monreal managed to have 94% passing accuracy. It’s particularly impressive due to the high press that West Brom were putting on Arsenal during periods of the first-half. Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi only managed a passing accuracy of 83% and 88% respectively. However, what I like about Monreal on the ball is how positive he is compared to other Arsenal defenders.

The evolved centre-back much prefers to pass forward rather than backwards to the keeper. This was illustrated well in the match when he received a ball on the halfway line facing our goal, with West Brom players applying pressure, and instead of passing it back to goalkeeper Petr Cech, he turned his marker and ended up driving forward back up the pitch to create an attacking opportunity.

nacho monreal scores v leicester

He even nearly scored the goal of the season, making a great run past the West Brom defence, before receiving the ball from a good Alexis pass and controlling the ball over defenders before being pulled down and dispossessed. It reminded me a bit of Matt Le Tissier’s goal against Newcastle, sure it wouldn’t have been as good, but it still could have been special.

Now onto THAT clearance. Monreal made four clearances during the game, but one was certainly more memorable than the rest. His goal line clearance in the 37th minute was quite simply outstanding. He should be applauded for firstly reading the play well and putting himself in the position to clear the ball. That being said, the clearance itself was quite a difficult skill to pull off. Running at full speed and connecting with the ball at an awkward angle was tough to produce.

Hopefully, Monreal will continue his good run of form in his new position. Yes, he’s not a natural centre-back but he is doing more than a serviceable job. He deserves the recognition he is starting to get. Despite Lacazette scoring two goals, Monreal was given man-of-the-match. Twitter was also very vocal of his performance; I wonder if Paul Merson will mention his performance in the upcoming days…

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