Welcome, Nacho! Hope You Have A Ball

‘Nacho’ in Hindi is like telling someone to dance. It’s almost like Wenger saying, “You want a signing? Here he is. Nacho!”

Lame jokes aside, I must say I was surprised and delighted by the acquisition. Nacho Monreal will make the squad stronger and will be a good addition to the line-up when he gets to start, which might be as soon as Saturday.

Most of the write-ups I’ve read have been positive and while the left-back is a largely unknown quantity for the majority of fans, including your truly, there is enough reason to think he’ll do well.

This article on ESPN FC from the editor of LaLigaUK and this one from an Arsenal fan who follows La Liga take a very encouraging tone. Both provide some useful information about the player’s background and style of play as does this interview with Graham Hunter.

It’s obvious that Monreal will fit in to the short passing style rather easily. Having been part of the Spain set up in the recent past and with some training under Pellegrini at Malaga, I am inclined to believe the full-back will bring good tactical awareness to the squad. That means he should be more aware of his own position on the ground with respect to that of his teammates and opponents. Furthermore, Nacho should also be a good decision maker in various game situations. In that sense, I believe he’ll be definitely better than Santos and perhaps also Gibbs.

Arsenal often build from the flanks or use the wide areas when trying to retain possession against energetic opponents who press hard. Monreal’s technical abilities should help him receive the ball under pressure and work combinations with teammates. Arsenal’s current full-backs are not bad at this but with Santos there is sometimes a degree of casualness visible. Hopefully, the new man will bring greater professionalism.

As far as pace is concerned, I think those who have not seen him often enough could be surprised. He has a loping gait but can be deceptively quick. I doubt he’ll beat Gibbs in a foot race but should run the Englishman close. However, this is an area where he will be tested in England. Spanish football doesn’t require as many vertical sprints as the English game demands, particularly from full-backs who have to find a way to make their presence felt on both ends of the pitch. It’s going to be a test of his speed, stamina, and decision making. Over time he’ll learn when and how often he should overlap. I’d recommend a conservative approach in the earlier games with emphasis on keeping the defence secure.

The Arsenal full-backs have been notorious for inconsistent and inefficient delivery in the final third of the pitch in recent years. And s good final ball is not just about crossing, it could be a simple square pass to an unmarked player or a wily five yard through-ball for a runner in the inside channel. Nacho Monreal should do better. The best Spanish players that we see currently, generally seem to have that extra bit of time to pick their passes even in tight spaces. Wenger’s latest acquisition should also have that skill as taking a pause before playing the key pass is deeply engrained in the Spanish philosophy of the game. I find it difficult to explain it but there seems to be that extra bit of composure which adds to the accuracy and effectiveness of the pass.

That said, it’s worth noting that most teams in England are used to the crossing game and are, in my opinion, better at defending attacks from the flanks than their Spanish counterparts. So Monreal won’t get as much time on the ball as he might when playing for Spain or in La Liga. Add to it the verticality discussed above and the speed of the game in general, and we could see Monreal struggling to reach high levels of consistency. Don’t forget, Arsenal are in general weak at wing play (although this season it’s been much, much better). There are many factors contributing to this and the quality of delivery is only one of those. Nevertheless, there is reason to hope the Gunners can find greater incision from the left flank, particularly with a player like Giroud in the penalty box constantly willing to attack the ball.

As with everything else, it will boil to down to how well the newcomer adapts to the playing styles in the League and the kind of understanding he can strike up with his teammates. Arsenal have done their bit by ensuring the odds are in their favour by selecting a player with the right attributes and experience but it’s still something we’ll have to see develop over time.

Some people have also said that his background with Osasuna – that ESPN article above mentions Unai Emery likening them to Stoke City – will help him deal with the physicality of the Premier League. I’m not quite convinced about that. While people might be right in observing some rough element to Osasuna’s style, the physical aspect in England is very different. I don’t see too many referees in Spain letting players grapple for possession the way they do in England. Throw in the long balls and these duels can be decisive as territory is gobbled up in a matter of seconds.

Will Nacho hold his own against beefier competition? Or will he crumble under pressure? It could be a tasty battle if he wins it, but I won’t have high expectations in the early games. If Wenger selects him against Stoke we will get an early glimpse but judging players (whether the opinion is positive or negative) too soon has not proven to be a worthwhile habit in my experience.

Much has also been made of the fact that he’s a Spanish international. There is some merit to that, and we’ve seen plenty of recent Spanish imports very do well in England, but I would not place too much emphasis on that. Jordi Alba is a unique case, but other full-backs for the reigning World and European champions have not been as extraordinary as their midfielders typically are. For instance, few would classify Alvaro Arbeloa or Joan Capdevila as world class. They’re steady reliable players who can do a job but are not going to set the pulse racing. Of course, being part of the Spain set up when the country has an abundance of talent does guarantee a degree of technical and tactical competency as already discussed above, and that in itself can be very useful from a synergy point of view.

In terms of tactical flexibility, Monreal will probably not give as many options as a player who could have adeptly manned two defensive positions. Wenger did mention that the Spaniard can play in midfield, and his presence could also allow Gibbs (or even Santos) the chance to play in an advanced role if the need arises. But a lingering feeling that Arsenal could (should?) have strengthened in the central (defence and/or midfield) areas remains.

All things considered, I believe this is a good acquisition and one that could have a positive impact on the rest of the season in the domestic competitions (He’s cup-tied for Champions League in case you didn’t notice). This period till May should also give us first-hand information about his long-term prospects. Don’t expect miracles, there’s a lot of work to be done if Arsenal have to defend better as a unit and one acquisition is not going to suddenly make the Gunners impenetrable. For now, he deserves his chance and all the support from the fans. All the best, Nacho!

5 Responses to Welcome, Nacho! Hope You Have A Ball

  1. Gerry Lennon says:

    Yes, That is how I read his background too Desi. I read about his qualities and thought ‘That is Gibbs with 4 more years of experience’? I have little doubt he will start today, and be a rip-roaring success.
    You are a little more cautious, but I think he will fit in seamlessly. I would not be surprised if Diaby comes in for Wilshere though? He has had a run of tough matches lately?
    That would be the only change from the midweek game, apart from the unfortunate Gibbs. I wish him a full recovery.
    I have stopped thinking of the ‘what might have been’ regards transfers. We are what we are, get on with it. We are better than most sides, and we will just have to work harder in the others. End of!
    Starting with 3 point today!

  2. bob says:

    “But a lingering feeling that Arsenal could (should?) have strengthened in the central (defence and/or midfield) areas remains.”
    Glad you got to the point 🙂 , Desi. You have a gift for massive understatement on this one. Reckless underspending is the rule, not the exception under the current regime, whoever calls the final shots (or lack thereof).

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