Nacho Monreal has started the season in superb form and proved that he still has a big role to play at Arsenal. During the summer, the club failed to invest significantly in the squad, but one of their arrivals was left-back Sead Kolasinac. This created doubts about the future of the 31-year-old, as he was now regarded as the back-up left-back at the club. Marca reported during the summer that Athletic Bilbao were interested in the Spaniard, but he ended up staying at the Emirates Stadium and looks reborn at the club in his new role.
At the end of last season, Monreal started to operate as part of a three-man defence as the left-sided centre-back. There were encouraging signs, but few people thought that he would have a long-term future in the role. It was more likely that Arsenal would sign a natural centre-back with experience of playing as part of a back-three. However, the lack of investment in the playing squad has afforded the 31-year-old further opportunity to establish himself and he hasn’t looked back since.
During the weekend’s victory over Brighton, he starred at both ends of the pitch and was one of the standout performers in the Arsenal team. He took the headlines thanks to his goal. Monreal opened the scoring with a good right-footed finish when the ball fell to him in the box. It showed his composure in the area and that he can contribute in the final third. He completed 102 passes, more than anyone else on the pitch, at an accuracy of 97%. This included two key passes that influenced the game in the attacking third.
In a three-man defence, it is important for the centre-backs to be composed in possession and operate as the launching pad of Arsenal attacks. Monreal is accomplished in possession and positive in his frame of mind to impact the game. This was clear on Sunday as he was regularly trusted with the ball and more involved in the game than any other Gunners player. His experience as a left-back enables him to bring the ball out of the defence and play a prominent role in transition.
Throughout this season, he has been impressive at the back, especially when it comes to positioning and reading the game. This is displayed through his average of 3.14 interceptions per ninety minutes. He is excellent at sensing danger and nipping in to win possession back for his team. This is a bigger strength than his tackling ability, but an average of 1.71 successful tackles per ninety minutes shows that he can be aggressive when the situation demands. As Monreal is operating in a make-shift role, opposition attacks will look to target him, but his performances during the first seven matches are a sign that he isn’t a weakness.
The development of Monreal as the left-sided centre-back is similar to that of Cesar Azpilicueta at Chelsea. His fellow Spaniard plays on the opposite side, but he has become a natural in the position and the success of Monreal is comparable to that. The 31-year-old needs to perform over a longer stretch of time before he can be considered a natural, but there are encouraging signs that he is on the right track. The 31-year-old’s contribution in both halves have made him an unlikely hero of Arsenal’s season so far. Occasionally, a change of role can lead to a career revival and that seems to be the case with Monreal.