Nacho Monreal from weaker link to top left back

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.

Walter’s earlier article in this series on Coquelin not only appeared on Untold, but also was reprinted with permission on   

The Untold Books

Elsewhere on Untold


16 Replies to “Nacho Monreal from weaker link to top left back”

  1. Top player. Some fans are like that, just quick to criticise when a player has a bad game. One just needs to look at the memes that were all the internet when Cech dropped a clanger against w/ham, and now when Wenger rests him for one game he is supposed to be clueless.

    Off toopic,
    God news about Fifa suspending Blatter and his cronies 🙂

  2. Gibbs is OK and a useful member of Arsenal’s top squad.
    But if he wants to know one of the reasons why Monreal is in pole position as left wingback, I will tell him.
    When, in attack, Monreal will move the ball inside i.e. towards his right flank, he will continue the move, releasing the ball using his right foot if need-be.
    You (Gibbs) would need to pass the ball back and away from the forward movement of the attack because you won’t or can’t use that right boot.
    The answer? Practice, lad, until either foot can be used when needed. 😉

  3. Nacho has always appeared to be a better ‘pure’ defender than Gibbs and he was a pretty decent in attack as well. Although he was always reasonable in a straight running sprint, he wasn’t anywhere as good as Gibbs ‘off the mark’ or on the turn. That was what initially caused him problems. He was having to sprint back to cover an attack and was clearly so exhausted when he caught the attacker that he tended to ‘dive in’ giving the opposition a free kick or allowing them to ‘dummy’ him making the attacker look like a superstar. Now he’s ‘upped’ his game at the same time Gibbs has been injured and seems to have issues getting back up to his level.
    Hopefully Gibbs can get some form again soon (some accurate crosses from him would be nice!) and we’ll have 2 of the best LBs in the PL to choose from.

  4. I have to admit that I feel pleased when he is in the team. He has developed so well that he is a permanent fixture in the team for the EPL games . While he may not be as well known as the others , he is an integral cog in our team. Reminds me a lot like Winterburn.

  5. Nicky
    I have noticed that players ability to play with both feet is something you feel strongly about and I agree with you, but Gibbs’s problems are more serious than that.

    Andy Mack

    Gibbs is a converted winger who’s never completely adjusted the mental part of his game to being a left back first and an attacking threat second.

    Monreal doesn’t have this problem because he’s always been a left back.

    The biggest difference between being a defender first is that you have to be switched on all the time. Attackers can drift in and out of games and if you have a solid defensive midfield , no harm comes your way most of the time.

    LVG installed Ashley Young in the left back position against Arsenal and he was a disaster. Couldn’t hold the line or decide which player to mark.

    Emre Can , who plays for Liverpool and Germany , is a very versatile player and can play any position on the pitch from an advanced mid to any position on defense , and even he finds it challenging to play a wing back.

    I’d doesn’t help Gibbs that Arsene Wenger wanting to give him some minutes , puts him for the last ten minutes or so in as a winger , further confusing the player.
    This is not a knock on Wenger btw, who just wants to keep all players fresh and match fit, but in Gibbs’ situation it works against the player IMO.

  6. With the time he has spent so far at Arsenal, I think Nanco has come of age as he’s now a first team starter of the Boss starting XI on a regular basis since last season. Monreal has definitely upped his low standard of defending to a high standard of defending for the Gunners. And this his high level of defending at Arsenal’s left back position is a bit of a surprise to many Arsenal fans including myself. Due to his defensive fralities in the middle part of last season, I had called on the Boss to sign a left back. I even went as far as tailoring Faouzi Ghoulam to the Boss to sign as I desperately want to see Arsenal’s left back becomes water tight. My advice to Nanco and Kieran is, they shouldn’t rest on their oars. But keep upping their defensive capabilities, because that’s what Arsenal need.

  7. Tom,
    It’s only something that I’ve found so frustrating with Gibbs. Both fullbacks are so good at joining in the attack but with Gibbs, as soon as he moves inside, (to his right), it seems as though the ball is attached to his trusty left boot like a magnet, which means he can only pass AWAY from the direction of the attack. If only he could continue the momentum by a simple kick with his right boot.
    He’s OK with crosses from the left wing position, of course.
    Sorry if I sound a bit paranoid. 😉

  8. Personally I feel more comfortable with Nacho on the LB for arsenal than Gibbs. Nacho has been very fluid with his runs and connects easily with attackers going forward and retreats easily to protect his back and goalkeeper. He’s not prone to unnecessary mistakes I keep noticing when Gibbs is on duty. My take is that Gibbs needs to up his game. Nacho has come of age defensively.

  9. Although I find Gibbs more exciting to watch back then, I always rate the two left back equally. Monreal had his problems. He’s not quick (or not so most of the time) and he made some obvious errors when he was purposely targeted.

    On the other hand, he definitely got better positioning and understanding of the game compare to Gibbs. Back then he went forward less frequently but when he went, the pass were accurate and more effective. He might not put as much pressure to the opposing right winger/ back but his efficiency with the ball was on par with Gibbs.

    Its also noticable that Monreal worked better when Santi played on the left. He just could not work with Poldi.

    For the first one or two matches Monreal playing CB, he did quite badly. He obviousely did not know how to work in that position. He quickly learnt the way to play CB and played resonable there. This quick transformation showed that he has good sense of the game. ( and credit to Arsene + his staff for telling Monreal what to do)

    To me, that switch and whatever he learnt there changed him. Also, we must remember that he got Alexis in front of him 🙂

  10. Just watch the Crystal Palace vs Arsenal game earlier this season. The way Alan Pardew and his players are rolling this season, Nacho did the impossible by marking out the Palace lightning speed wingers, completely shutting them down. The best LB in EPL for me.

  11. If we are wonder whats keeping Gibbs out of the team for the moment, Well, look no futher than Nacho.
    BUT if you are wondering whats keeping Monreal at such a high level, look no further than Gibbs.

    Whatever games Gibbs has played this season, hez looked sharp and solid. Its a competition there and that in my opinion is good for ARSENAL.

  12. Another good article.

    Monreal is a classic example of the difficulty some Europeans have adapting to the pace of the English game.

    You often see expensive signings coming to the EPL and looking out of their depth. The FFM excepts every player to hit their straps immediately, if they don’t they jump on their backs and start abusing them. Ozil is a perfect example of that. Monreal used to get treated teh same.

    Some players take time to adapt. Wenger knows that and he stuck with Monreal despite the FFM narrative. Yet again he was proved right because Monreal is a quality player. £8m looks a snip when you consider another left back, Luke Shaw, cost £31m. Spend some fking money.

  13. Good work for the Untold Family. We fans, as human beings are always quick to jugde. I think its human nature. But we must learn to own up when we re proven wrong. The first few games that Kosceiny played for us to me was a disaster. One particular game, he was brushed of easily by Long. I wrote him off. How terribly wrong i was! Today, a hundred long and their ilk are cooling off in his pocket. Im sorry Koscieny. Too happy you proved me wrong.

  14. @Walter

    Lol. I apologise. I was one of those who commented upon your Francis Coquelin story. Nacho Monreal is an excellent left back. The so called pundits will catch on sooner or later.

Comments are closed.