How has this defender become one of Arsenal’s most consistent performers?
Nacho Monreal moved to Premier League title contenders Arsenal on the 31st of January 2013 from Spanish side Malaga for a fee believed to be £8.3 Million. The Spanish International Left Back joined the Gunners with a big reputation after impressing in La Liga for both Malaga and Osasuna. Monreal made 127 appearances for Osasuna, who he represented at youth level, and was a key part of their side as he made himself a fixture in the team alongside another promising youth product, current Chelsea full back Cesar Azpilicueta.
Monreal left the club in 2011 to join a Malaga side that had recently been boosted by the millions of Sheikh Abdullah ben Nasser Al Thani. The left back missed just 7 matches in his debut season as Malaga finished 4th, earning themselves a place in the Champions League. Malaga had an incredible season in the Champions League, winning through in the play offs before qualifying unbeaten in a group containing Italian giants AC Milan, Belgian Champions Anderlecht and Russian Champions Zenit St Petersburg. They were drawn against Portuguese Champions Porto in the Round of 16 and after a 1-0 away defeat, Malaga won the home leg 2-0 to earn themselves a Quarter Final tie with German side Borussia Dortmund. Malaga followed up a 0-0 home draw by leading the 2nd leg 2-1 going into stoppage time, before Marco Reus and Felipe Santana broke Andalucian hearts to eliminate them 3-2 on aggregate. After failing Financial Fair Play rules Malaga were banned from the 2012/13 Europa League and this led to the likes of Isco, Santi Cazorla and Monreal leaving the club.
In his first few seasons in England, Monreal struggled to impose himself on the side and was constantly rotated with fellow left back Kieran Gibbs. He did feature a few times for Spain, but was the understudy to Barcelona left back Jordi Alba and he was included in the squad for the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil. He started the last 2 group stage fixtures, helping his side keep 2 clean sheets as they won 10-0 and 3-0 against Tahiti and Nigeria respectively. He also picked up an assist for a David Villa goal in the demolition of Tahiti. Monreal scored his only Premier League goal to date in a 2-0 win at Swansea City. He has since scored in the 2-1 FA Cup win at Old Trafford last season which opened up a path for the Gunners to retain the trophy with a 4-0 win in the final against Aston Villa.
Monreal was still struggling to impose himself on the side, but started as the number 1 left back this season after Gibbs’ injury. Since the Englishman’s absence, Monreal’s form has been phenomenal and he has started to become a big player for Arsenal. He has been very solid defensively, whilst adding a lot more going forward and this has helped Arsenal become a more balanced side. He has linked up well with Alexis Sanchez on the left hand side and his versatility is vital with him able to cover at Centre Back and on the left hand side of midfield. Monreal reminds me of Real Madrid full back Alvaro Arbeloa, being solid defensively without being spectacular but the big difference is what Monreal offers going forward. He is a decent crosser of the ball and is a good passer, a skill that is very vital in a footballing side like Arsenal. The Spaniard last featured for Spain in 2013, but is pushing his case very well to be included in the squad for the 2016 European Championships.
Nacho Monreal’s brilliant form this season could be down to a number of reasons, arguably the most important factor being the work he has put in since the end of last season. It is clear that he has worked hard on the training ground to improve all the skills needed to be a quality full back and has been a real revelation this season, becoming one of the league’s best left backs. Another reason could be the desire to play in one last International Competition for Spain and looking to add to his 16 caps. There is a lot of competition for that left back spot, but with Jordi Alba in and out of the Barcelona side, Jose Gaya still inexperienced and Cesar Azpilicueta in a Chelsea side really struggling this season, there is no reason why he can’t make a claim to make the squad and more ambitiously the starting line up. The final reason is that he seems to have developed more of an understanding with the rest of the side, especially Alexis Sanchez, Santi Cazorla and to some extent centre backs Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny and Gabriel Paulista.
Whatever the reasons for Nacho Monreal’s insurgence, it is clear that he is now a very important player for Arsenal and has become a very talented left back. If he can continue his current form for the entirety of the season I would be very surprised to see him left out by Spain and he has set a real marker to the other contenders. If Arsenal are to due well in the League, FA Cup and Champions League/Europa League (Depending on what happens next week), then they will need to keep Monreal fit and at his best.
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