Nacho Monreal has enjoyed the best season of his Arsenal career, producing a level of excellence at both ends of the pitch.
The Spaniard has grown into his role as part of a three-man backline, playing as the left centre-back for Arsene Wenger’s men. However, it has not stopped the 31-year-old from being active in the final third, notching four goals in the Premier League.
Monreal had previously netted only once in the top flight before the campaign. His new position has seemingly brought out the best in his attacking flair this term, as he has been able to push forward down the left. Whether his performances for the Gunners have been noted by Spain boss Julen Lopetegui to earn a spot in his 23-man squad remains to be seen.
Although Arsenal have not been on top form his term, they still remain in contention for a Champions League place, being backed with odds as high as 16/1 to finish in the top four, which could be worth a punt with BetOnline’s 25% free play – especially given their penchant for bottling it. Monreal will play an important role in the final 11 matches of the campaign but their defensive record will have to improve. Arsenal have conceded the most goals in the top six, shipping 36 in their 27 matches to date. Monreal could prove a point to Lopetegui to ensure that he’s in the squad for Russia by leading a resilient end to the term to tighten up the Gunners’ defence.
Sliding Into Place
Chelsea’s success deploying the 3-4-3 formation last season put pressure on the rest of the Premier League to adapt. Wenger held out for the majority of the term before finally playing with a three-man backline against Middlesbrough towards the end of the campaign. The Gunners secured a 2-1 victory at the Riverside Stadium before winning seven out of their last eight matches, including an impressive 2-0 win over Manchester United at the Emirates Stadium.
Monreal’s move into the back three could have been prompted by the success of his compatriot Cesar Azpilicueta making the same transition at Chelsea. The two players have roughly the same build and height – no-one would mistake them for a burly centre-back. However, Azpilicueta has thrived in the role on the right side of the Blues’ three-man backline after playing the first four seasons of his career at Stamford Bridge as a traditional full-back.
The 28-year-old has still displayed the same tenacity in defence and has shown no signs of a struggle adjusting to the prospect of facing forwards rather than wide players. Azpilicueta did not lose his ability to raid forward, notching a goal and four assists last term. He has continued his form in the current campaign, forming a fine connection with Alvaro Morata, which has resulted in the Spaniard notching six assists.
Monreal started the current season at centre-back out of necessity due to Laurent Koscielny’s suspension and the sale of Gabriel Paulista. Although there were some poor performances, conceding three goals against Leicester and a disastrous outing on the road at Liverpool, Wenger kept faith in the 31-year-old and the system, which began to bear fruit with Koscielny and Shokodran Mustafi playing operating alongside him rather than Rob Holding and Senad Kolasinac. Wenger ended the three-man backline after suffering back-to-back defeats to Bournemouth and Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup.
Monreal’s first game of the season at left-back was outstanding as he put Crystal Palace to the sword with a goal and two assists in the opening 20 minutes before being forced off the pitch. Although Arsenal’s form has been inconsistent, especially on the big stage, the Spaniard has been an indispensable part of the team and has highlighted his value with his versatility along with his contributions in the final third.
Will Monreal Travel To Russia?
Monreal has a challenge ahead of him to be selected for the World Cup. Jordi Alba has locked down the left-back spot in Lopetegui’s side and unless the Barcelona man succumbs to an injury before the tournament, he should start in Spain’s opener. Monreal has made only 21 appearances for La Roja in his career, the majority of which came in 2013 when Alba missed time due to injury. After an exile of two years, the Arsenal man was brought back into the fold for the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
He scored his first goal for his country against Macedonia, once again proving that he is more than capable of producing in the final third. Alba’s brilliance with his distribution and surging runs would make it imperative that a similar-minded player would be needed should he be unavailable. Unfortunately for Monreal, Azpilicueta could switch over to the opposite flank, saving Lopetegui a valuable spot in his 23-man squad.
His time playing in the middle for the Gunners could loom large. There’s not a great deal of depth behind starters Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique in the middle. Nacho is the primary back-up but, beyond him, there’s Marc Bartra and potentially Javi Martinez and Inigo Martinez. Once again, Azpilicueta’s versatility could be utilised to switch into the centre in a pinch. Monreal is a superior player to Bartra but the logjam in the midfield could see Lopetegui opt for Javi Martinez as a defender to keep him in the squad. There’s a lot of quality at the full-back position for La Roja as even Azpilicueta is not guaranteed to start in his battle with Dani Carvajal. Real Sociedad’s Alvaro Odriozola is on the rise – therefore it looks as though the Arsenal man will be the odd man out, despite his importance in the Premier League for Wenger’s men.