A Premier League winning side is not just made up of players who can change a game with a piece of magic. Reliability is crucial when it comes to forming a title winning side. Last season, Leicester City had the likes of Danny Simpson and Marc Albrighton, reliable characters who weren’t necessarily the type of players who were going to win you matches by grabbing a game by the scruff of the neck. They were consistent. Well Arsenal’s Mr Reliable has been under the radar for several seasons now. Nacho Monreal has been a consistent performer in Arsene Wenger’s side, and has been so reliable, he’s kept out the solid Kieran Gibbs.
Often overlooked because of the outstanding pace and attacking prowess of Hector Bellerin, Nacho Monreal offers a balance that is necessary for Arsenal to remain solid and compact. His performance against Swansea, more notably winger Modou Barrow was better than he received credit for. For large chunks of the game he kept the pacey winger quiet, there was one move, which did ultimate lead to goal, that Monreal’s pace was exploited. However, the goal could have been prevented if there was better cover and positioning from centre backs Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi.
Arsenal’s current back four cannot be overlooked though. The positioning, pace and strength of the four of them combined has certainly put them amongst the league’s best back fours, only Tottenham come to mind as having as solid of a defence. Mark Schwarzer said this week that Petr Cech is the best goalkeeper in the league, which received huge criticism, but the confidence he has given to Monreal is extremely noticeable. Since Cech came in, Monreal has played with more freedom down the left hand side, his runs often create space for the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Özil to wonder into. He was rewarded with a new contract in January, and despite not contributing when it comes to scoring goals, Monreal’s ability to add to attacks with a well place cross or a well-timed run is undeniable.
There is a mistake in him though, and when a strong centre forward targets him at the back post he can be left vulnerable, much like Bellerin. The likes of Andy Carroll and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who are a blast to the past when it comes to aerial presence, will cause all sorts of problems for the two Spaniards. Monreal proved himself more than useful when it came to filling in at centre back as well, although not accustom to the position and certainly nowhere near as confident as he is in his usual left back position, his grit and determination was proven in this difficult time for the gunners.
With Wenger receiving full confidence from the board this past week, you cannot help but think part of that is down to the faith he has in some of his players to come good. Monreal is the epitome of that. The 8.3m defender opened the scoring against Manchester United in that memorable FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United in March 2015, and he was ever present in the campaign that saw them lift the trophy after a 4-0 thrashing of then Tim Sherwood’s Aston Villa.
Monreal’s game is by no means perfect, Wenger often looks to deploy Kieran Gibbs in late stages of close games with his famous “double left back” tactic, which is used to counter pacey threats from opposition wingers and full backs – a highlight that sometimes the Spaniard’s pace can be exploited when he isn’t receiving support from whomever is playing on the left wing for Arsenal, usually Alexis Sanchez or Alex Iwobi.
It’s undeniable that he has come a long way since his days at Osasuna and Malaga, Wenger has nurtured him into one of the best full backs in the league, and a pivotal part of the strongest back four that Arsenal have had since their invincible season.