Nacho Monreal has been Arsenal’s best player of the season thus far. And that is something that I did not think I would ever write. He has changed my mind.
There was a period of time where the future of the Arsenal left-back position looked obvious. Gael Clichy departed for Manchester City, after previously succeeding from Ashley Cole, and Kieran Gibbs, very much like Clichy, was waiting in the wings. It was a simple process of one taking on from the other.
But that did not happen. Injuries struck Gibbs badly. He was unable to stay fit, consistently fighting off niggling injuries that scuppered his match sharpness and he failed to consistently establish himself as a reliable and productive option.
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As a result, Wenger was forced into action. He had had enough of waiting. The man that he turned to was Nacho Monreal, after a brief experiment with Andre Santos, of which the less said the better. The experienced and accomplished defender then proceeded to battle with Gibbs for the starting role. Gibbs was the assumed starter, but injuries provided Monreal with playing opportunities, and, slowly, he began to take them.
At that time, I was not the biggest fan of Monreal. His lack of elite athleticism, his positional lapses, and his struggles when defending pacy wingers in space were all reasons that I pointed to as why he should not be starting. And, at that time, I still believe that I was right. But this season, Monreal has set about changing the tune.
Playing in the wide centre-half role, that, in equal measure, demands both full-back and centre-half responsibilities, Monreal as a more experienced and intelligent player, leaned on his understanding as a more traditional left-back to flourish in the hybrid position.
Very much like Cesar Azpilicueta at Chelsea, Monreal has forged a very specific and important role for himself. He instigates attacks from deep, often acting as the primary ball carrier out of the defence, his reading of the game and sense of danger is excellent, often anticipating where the threat will come from, and his lack of pace is protected a little more with his more central starting position.
Monreal is now one of the very first names on the teamsheet. Just a year ago that would have been a rather worrying development. But now, such is the dependability of his performances, that is quite alright with me.
Monreal has changed my mind. He has improved and improved and improved. And this season, he has been Arsenal’s very best player. He is deserving of the praise that he is receiving.