Nacho Monreal is Arsenal's Most Improved Player
In a frustrating, turbulent season for Arsenal and their fans, it is easy to forget those who have shined, surprised or satisfied.
Many gooners will look towards the signing of Alexis Sanchez in August as the club’s crowning moment of the campaign (thus far, at least), and some may herald the defensive cover purchased in the forms of Ospina, Chambers, Debuchy and Gabriel.
As we crawl towards the season’s end, we can start to look back over the previous months and think about the players, goals and moments that really helped to shape Arsenal’s recent progress.
Nacho Monreal, for me, has had a huge and somewhat surprising role to play this season. Venturing from left back to centre back, as well as improving upon his offensive play, have allowed fans to soak in his contribution to the team, and commend him for his efforts.
Forgetting for the moment that Arsene Wenger inexcusably entered the season with only two recognised central defenders, it was hard to predict at the start of the campaign that Monreal, Spain’s third choice left back, would undertake such a vastly different and more challenging role for the gunners.
His arrival into the centre of defence was a move met with huge scrutiny, and rightfully so. I lambasted the manager for what I believed was poor management, and I bemoaned the boss’ lack of tactical intelligence too.
How can a player who has hardly lit up the premier league in his strongest position possibly excel as a deputy in another? It didn’t make sense, and I couldn’t have been the only fan to recognise this.
But that’s exactly what he did.
Was he perfect or faultless in any way? No. Was he expected to be? Certainly not. But he showed immense maturity and growth as a footballer during this time period, and I believe him to be the better player for it, as I look back now.
His stint in the centre of defence hardened him. It introduced him to the harsh physicality that the Premier League is famous for in a way that even he perhaps couldn’t have expected. His games in the centre proved to me that a player overlooked by so many at the start of the season could actually be worth so much more, and could actually provide a greater hand than many would’ve given him credit for.
Not only did results stabilise, but Nacho improved upon his defensive positioning, his heading accuracy and power, and his strength. These qualities are, naturally, vital in any defender, but transferring from full back to centre back whilst playing in the world’s most competitive league is no easy task, and I dare any Arsenal fan to say that they expected better from him.
Now that Arsenal are blessed to have cult hero Laurent Koscienly back in their ranks, and that Wenger has had his faith in the Spaniard justified, Monreal has begun to enjoy his football on a consistent basis back at left back.
His performances at Manchester City and against Stoke and Newcastle, among others, were exceptional, and Nacho was able to display his newly found confidence from his traditional position on the football pitch. This allowed him to be more expressive and creative going forward, whilst possessing the necessary grit and steel to remain a domineering force whilst defending.
It’s easy to name Arsenal’s outstanding players this season from an attacking perspective. Gooners will no doubt look towards stars like Alexis, Cazorla or even men like Coquelin or Chamberlain, but I remain convinced that Nacho Monreal deserves at least a mention in that category, as Arsenal approach the season’s climax.
As I look back on what has happened, and focus on the task ahead, as an Arsenal fan of thirteen years I can safely and proudly say that Nacho Monreal has been a fantastically pleasant surprise for Arsenal in this campaign, and that he deserves huge credit for his efforts. Arsenal have lacked 'constants' this season, but one man who is is Nacho Monreal.
Sign him up, Arsene.
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