By Walter Broeckx
As I talked about Francis Coquelin the other day a few of our readers said that for them Monreal was one of the absolute revelations of the last year too. I urge you to not do this, as in a way it takes away the surprise about the new articles I already have in my mind but for which I need to find the right moment to get out of my brain and find their way to the internet. And yes Bellerin is on my list also. As is Gabriel. Why not go all over them? Now that might be an idea to fill up the internationals…
But first Nacho Monreal. A player we bought!!!!
In January 2013 we bought him from Malaga. Only half a season after we bought Santi Cazorla from Malaga. Before Monreal went to Malaga he played for the club of his birth place Pamplona, called Osasuna Pamplona. A team I have seen play at my local club ages ago before Nacho even was born I think. A regular Spanish international but not a name that really grabbed the headlines of that oh so successful team. The headlines were for Xavi, Torres and other Iniestas. Monreal was just a player who made sure that those boys could do their job further up the field.
When he came the aaa was not really satisfied. As they didn’t know him and he was not mentioned on the list of Fifa Manager or whatever the games are called. And he didn’t cost too much so he was going to be rubbish.
Now Monreal was a good example of the fact that each transfer holds a certain risk. You never know how quickly a player can adapt to a new team. It can take a while and it can also not work out at all. It is fair to say that it took Nacho a while to get used to Arsenal. And to a new league. And to new referees and a different referee style.
In his first season he made only 9 starts in the PL. And in his second season he also only had 13 starts in a possible 38 starts in the PL. But he started also in some FA cup matches and in Europe but it was fair to say that Gibbs was more or less the number one left back at that moment. And so the critics came out pointing at Monreal at being not good enough.
He was too slow they said. And that is in a way funny seeing a stat on my TV in the match against MU showing that at that moment he was the fastest player on the pitch. He was a liability. He made too many mistakes. He was ‘not good enough’ as the saying is. Followed by FACT! Another example on how Wenger had lost it.
But since he had no international matches to play in the summer of 2014 we could see Nacho Monreal for the first time having a regular pre-season with the rest of the team. In 2013 he was part of the Spanish team that played in the confederations cup and so came back a bit later. But he wasn’t called up for the world cup itself in 2014 so he could have a real fresh start.
And that is what made a big difference I think. He slotted right in from the start and he was also one of the players who moved in to a more central position at the start of the season when Koscielny was injured. And that might have been something that helped him a lot when he moved back to the left back place. Since then he really started to perform at a very high level.
I have always been a great fan of Kieran Gibbs as he was ‘one of ours’ coming from the youth and so he was my favourite left back. But I have to admit that what Monreal has shown the last year was of such high quality that he amazed me. And now I find that Monreal is the man to start at left back. At first I thought he was just the better defender than Gibbs and that Gibbs was better going forward.
But with the confidence that Monreal now has and the way he is playing he is going forward as well as Gibbs can do, and still is the better defender. Is he the best left back at Arsenal for the moment: yes I think he is. And Gibbs has a mountain to climb to take Monreal his starting place I think. But with the rotation Gibbs will get his games and in the cup matches he will get his chance.
Is Monreal the best left back in the PL for the moment? Well I think he is! But that is my biased opinion on him of course. As I think all Arsenal players are the best in their position. But one thing is for sure and I think everyone will confirm this: Monreal has gone from being a player that people shrugged their shoulders about when his name was mentioned, to a player that now is being regarded as a vital player in our team. He now is not just a great defender but also adding to the attack and working his socks off in every match he plays. He is reliable, his heading has improved with playing as a central defender for a few weeks, he has grown in the way he is playing. He is full of confidence for the moment and you just can see it in the way he plays.
I remember a moment in the MU match where he ran with the ball at his feet surrounded with a handful of MU players but he just turned and twisted and not one MU player even got close to the ball. And you could see him almost say to them: come on take it then if you can. In an almost arrogant way one could say. But an arrogance that was built on a great confidence of him knowing that he had the MU players in his pocket.
Gone are the days of moaning about Nacho and making silly jokes about his nickname. His real name is Ignacio by the way and that is shortened to Nacho. I think now we can say that most people admire him for what he brings to the team. He will not be the name in the headlines as he is one of those ‘serving players’ as one could call them. The players who make sure that the big guns up front have the opportunity to shine. But trust me such players are maybe as important as the big ones. Because if players like Monreal don’t win the ball back for Arsenal the players upfront will have no chance to shine at all.
I think Monreal is another fine example on how difficult it is to make a transfer and certainly to a new country and league. It can take a long time before you actually really can bring something to the team and you do have to calculate in a long adaptation time. The aaa had given up on him early on in fact, but I am glad Wenger didn’t listen to them and gave Nacho the chance to show what he is really worth. And that is a lot I think.
The Untold Books
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
- Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal
Elsewhere on Untold
- The Untold Arsenal Banner is now on permanent display inside the Emirates Stadium
- A Memorial to the founders of Arsenal’s Highbury dynasty.
- And we’re on Twitter @UntoldArsenal