I spoke incredibly highly of Santi Cazorla when he first came to the Premier League last summer, and like the former Villarreal and Malaga midfielder, Ignacio Monreal should be considered an equally impressive coup.
Hindsight certainly offers plenty when looking at how Monreal’s arrival at Arsenal came about: an injury to Kieran Gibbs can finally be thought of as a good thing, as without the pressing need for another capable body in that position, Arsene Wenger would have continued to sit on his hands.
But Nacho Monreal is about as real a left-back as they get, and one which Arsenal have been crying out for since Ashley Cole left in 2006.
With Gael Clichy, the Frenchman only had one season of notable quality before it all went south. Kieran Gibbs was a midfielder converted into a defender, and, like Clichy, was a far more assured weapon in the attacking-third. Players brought in as back up like Armand Traore and Andre Santos should never have been deemed good enough to play for the club.
Monreal began his career in La Liga on the left side of Osasuna’s defence, while Cesar Azpilicueta took up the position on the opposing flank of the Pamplona outfit’s back line. Here was a defender in Monreal who was a natural in that department; he wasn’t a converted winger because his club or national team needed full-backs (Sergio Ramos falls into that category), and prior to Azpilicueta’s move to Marseille, both would have been well on course for greater things in Spanish football.
What Arsenal have in Monreal is a player who understands his duties as a defender. He’s extremely reliable and is equipped with the awareness to know when to push on. You can train that sort of consistency into any of the other Arsenal full-backs who have been used in that position, but for players like Monreal, it’s a natural part of his game.
In La Liga, the former Malaga full-back was considered one of the best in his position. Plenty of talk will surround Marcelo, Fabio Coentrao and now Jordi Alba, but others have quietly gone about carving their reputation into the modern makeup of the league. Monreal had and continues to have enough merit to warrant a place in the top five left-backs in Spain, alongside Filipe Luis at Atletico, who would also have been a fine acquisition for Arsenal’s attacking game. If there was no Jordi Alba; or let’s say if his transition from winger to full-back wasn’t as smooth as it turned out to be, Monreal would more than likely be the starter in the Spanish national team.
It was fairly predictable that many in England wouldn’t have been aware of Monreal’s qualities when he was linked with the move to Arsenal on deadline day. It’s not really a surprise that a player, no matter his talent, goes unnoticed if he’s not backed by the heavyweight name of either Real Madrid or Barcelona. But Arsenal should consider this an absolute steal, and one which they’re certain to benefit from for many years in the future.
Monreal was always likely to be high up on the list of assets at La Rosaleda who needed to be sold in order to balance the books, along with Isco and Ignacio Camacho. And what Arsenal now have is a player who, like Cazorla, has been picked up for at least half of his realistic value in the market.
The player benefits enormously from this deal too. His game is sure to be enhanced even further, as competition from Kieran Gibbs is a step up from what Eliseu could offer at Malaga. The player now does have a big name club to back up his ascent into the limelight of first-team football in Vicente del Bosque’s side. Jordi Alba may be as natural as they come in terms of attacking – a trait which has become vital to a modern full-back’s game; however, Monreal is the sturdier of the two defenders.
Monreal will bring more to Arsenal’s defence than Gibbs, who has developed well in that role this season. The player’s debut against Stoke in the league showed that he can combine well with others in the final-third, possessing the intelligence to get behind defenders and provide a good delivery for those in the box.
Maybe three or four years ago, Monreal would have been a typical ‘Arsene Wenger signing,’ relatively unknown and yet to make his mark on a bigger footballing stage. However, it’s not too much of a shame that his arrival has been delayed, as, at 26, the player brings with him enough experience to become an instant hit at the Emirates.