This is the twelfth instalment in Football FanCast’s Legacies series, which pays tribute to those players and managers who leave a compelling story behind as they move on to pastures new.
When Nacho Monreal arrived at Arsenal it was an understated signing, drawing comparisons to Peter Crouch.
It wasn’t because of his height, nor was it because of their position on the pitch.
Instead, it was because of their looks. In 2015, Theo Walcott revealed in an interview with BT, via Express, that he had the nickname ‘Crouchy’ in the dressing room.
Scoring six goals in 2017/18 is about as close as Monreal came to replicating him though.
The Spaniard is no longer at Arsenal, deciding to head to pastures new where he’ll now link up with Real Sociedad.
Monreal has gone back to Spain but he’ll leave behind a fascinating legacy in north London.
Things change quickly in football and Monreal will be the first person to tell you that. On transfer deadline day in January 2013, he woke up to multiple calls from a certain Santi Cazorla.
A former teammate of the veteran at Malaga, the diminutive midfielder was trying to convince Monreal to join Arsenal.
Lo and behold just hours later he was confirmed as a Gunners player, bolstering their options at left back.
The fee was nothing extortionate as he arrived for a price of around £10m and considering his performances on the pitch, Arsenal more than got their money’s worth.
He battled with Kieran Gibbs to become the Gunners’ first choice on the left-hand side of defence but would also go on to feature as a centre-back when Arsene Wenger opted for a three-man backline.
Versatile and dedicated, Monreal was the model professional.
For a side that has been so questionable defensively, Monreal’s Arsenal stats are actually quite impressive.
He was able to help keep 64 clean sheets in 187 games, mustering some handy numbers at both ends of the pitch.
According to Premierleague.com, he made 371 tackles at a success rate of 68% whilst making 555 clearances, four of which were made off the line.
What catches your attention most, however, is the solitary error leading to a goal he had in over six years at the club.
If any stat summed up Monreal’s consistency, that was it.
For the 33-year-old there are a host of magic moments that spring to mind, one of which came at Old Trafford.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain did brilliantly to maintain possession on the edge of the area before somehow squirming the ball to Monreal.
Not known for his finishing, he was able to get it out of his feet and find the back of the net as Arsenal beat Manchester United.
The FA Cup was where the Spanish international looked most at home, winning it three times during his stint in Islington.
That included a semi-final goal against Manchester City at Wembley, arriving at the back post to slam home a volley as the Gunners won it in 2016/17.
His passion after scoring summed up what football means to him and it wasn’t uncharacteristic to see him celebrate in such a manner.
It’s hard to sit here and slate Monreal because his contribution in an Arsenal shirt was often so consistent.
The defender only ever dipped below an average match rating of 6.9, according to WhoScored, in the Premier League in his first and final season’s, including 2019/20.
He was the type of character you’d love to have in your side. He never moaned and never complained about a lack of game time or his role within the team.
Monreal was never a world-class left back, though, neither can he be considered as one of the best Arsenal have ever had.
But the fact he was deemed good enough on a regular basis is perhaps indicative of the club’s regression in recent years.
In days gone by, Arsenal had defenders that were capable of winning you titles. Ashley Cole and Nigel Winterburn spring to mind.
In another era, he might well have been a part of a title-winning squad but Arsenal were never of that quality with Monreal in the side.
He was an old-fashioned full-back but a focus on defensive solidity is a trait we don’t so often see from the modern day full-back. You only need to look at how Unai Emery opted for Hector Bellerin and Sead Kolasinac as wing-backs to realise that.
In a way, the fact Monreal was considered such a good player at Arsenal sums up how far they have fallen.
If the experienced head was considered one of the most error-free players in the side, it says an awful lot about the type of individuals among the Gunners’ ranks and offers a damning insight into what they became whilst he was in England.
During Wenger’s final years, they began to falter in their quest for the top four and that rather summed up just how bad the situation had got.
That isn’t the Spaniard’s fault because he’ll arguably go down as somewhat of a cult-hero in N5, especially for those goals at Old Trafford and Wembley.
But let’s scrap the negativity for a while.
On the comeback trail now, there are plenty of reasons to be positive. They could have Kieran Tierney fit at the end of the month and only then might the Emirates Stadium begin to realise what kind of player they’ve been missing at left-back.
For now, though, Monreal signs off with a glowing legacy at Arsenal.