This article is part of Football FanCast’s The Chalkboard series, which provides a tactical insight into teams, players, managers, potential signings and more…
For all of the criticism aimed at Arsenal in recent seasons about their defensive frailties, one man who could have kept his head held higher than most, is Nacho Monreal. He has been a picture of consistency since his arrival from Malaga in the winter transfer window back in 2013, but in the past year, the Spain international has endured somewhat of a dramatic decline.
Pace has never really been one of the 33-year-old’s strong points, but in years gone by he would more than make up for it with astute positioning defensively, and excellent timing of runs going forward. He was a rare breed of full-back in that he was just as solid going back towards his own goal, as he was going the other way. But as age catches up to him, Monreal’s weaknesses are getting more and more exposed.
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Against Angers in pre-season, the left-back endured a tough time against goal-scorer Farid El Melaili, who pulled him this way and that, before he was hauled off at half-time for Dominic Thompson. Unai Emery has already indicated that he would like to transition back towards his favoured back-four for the upcoming campaign, but having Monreal lining up in it simply invites opposition teams up to attack him.
It has therefore been no surprise to see the Gunners look to clinch a deal for Celtic left-back Kieran Tierney. Reports in recent weeks have suggested that after failing to appease the Scottish side’s demands over the structure of a potential £25m deal, the north Londoners could be set to finally get their man.
It will give Emery a much-needed calming presence on the left-hand side, knowing that he doesn’t need to make tactical adjustments elsewhere in the team just to help Monreal get through a game.
Indeed, Monreal’s trademark overlaps and forays into the box have also taken a sharp decrease over the past 12 months. In the 2017/2018 campaign, the Spaniard racked up an impressive six goals in 38 appearances, with five of them coming in the Premier League alone. In contrast, the 33-year-old managed just one strike in 36 games across all competitions last season.
So whilst Monreal has proven to be a fantastic servant for the club, and been the north London side’s ‘Mr Reliable’, it’s perhaps more urgent than ever for the Gunners to slowly ease Monreal out of the first-team and get someone like Tierney in to bring some much-needed energy.