Unless you’re a huge fan of Marcelo or David Alaba, Nacho Monreal is better than your favourite left-back.
He’s not the most athletic, glamorous or charismatic player, but he has been one of Arsenal’s most consistent performers this season. Alexis Sanchez has written a lot of headlines, but Nacho Monreal didn’t have the mid-season blip that the Chilean suffered.
It’s a really interesting case study for modern full backs. Most elite left backs are pace merchants and often forget about doing their primary job: defending. Nacho bucks this trend. He’s solid as a rock – opposition wingers now have trouble passing him and it looks as if the extended spell at centre back has served him well. He’s a more robust player than when Arsenal signed him from Malaga.
Many will remember the game at Goodison Park last season. Roberto Martinez played Romelu Lukaku from the right to target Monreal’s lightweight nature. Since then, Monreal has been transformed into one of the league’s best and Lukaku wouldn’t have a sniff.
As mentioned earlier, he enjoyed a spell at centre back early in the season, a move which looked strange to the average fan. Despite some early signs of shakiness, Monreal adapted and provided capable service at the heart of Arsenal’s defence.
When Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny returned, many expected the Spaniard to warm the bench and play a bit-part role for the rest of the season, but Wenger decided to go with him as his first choice left back.
And he was right to do so. Monreal took a lot from his spell at centre back and used it when he returned to his natural position. He’s stronger than Kieran Gibbs, he is better in the air, and surprisingly, is better going forward. He makes better decisions and has more quality on the ball.
In three of Arsenal’s biggest games this season, he’s delivered. At the Etihad, his run caused Vincent Kompany to bring him down and give Santi Cazorla the chance to take the lead from the spot. At Old Trafford, Nacho once again popped up in a great position and showed calmness to slot past David De Gea. In Monaco, he was again one of Arsenal’s best performers and Mesut Özil found him with a inch-perfect pass which in turn led to a goal.
He doesn’t have the pace or the explosiveness of a lot of top full backs, instead he uses nous, timing and positioning to be in the right place at the right time.
Mesut Özil, Alexis Sanchez and Laurent Koscielny may be seen as Arsenal’s three most important players, but Nacho Monreal delivers week-in, week-out and is one of the first names on the team sheet.