This is well overdue.
Nacho Monreal pulled on our famous red and white jersey for six seasons, between 2013 and 2019.
And it’s time he got the kudos his commitment deserves.
When Nacho signed back in 2013, we knew we were getting a defender of some repute. Spain were still boasting one of if not the most glittering of international squads and Monreal had grabbed caps during that time. So the new signing had to be decent.
And like a fine wine, he just got better. And this was a good thing, as the start of his Arsenal career wasn’t exactly smooth sailing.
Nacho joined when our defence was pretty much in freefall. Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny aside, Arsene Wenger’s defence was simply not the priority of the team and how it was set up. If it weren’t for the big German and stalwart Frenchman in the backline, we would have shipped a boatload more goals.
And so Nacho signed and he was pitted against England full-back Kieran Gibbs. Both had pace to spare and indeed, both enjoyed a jaunt down the flank. But the first season saw Gibbs edging it in terms of the first team, with the English defender preferred to Nacho for the famous FA Cup win, ending in a dramatic 3-2 victory over Hull City at Wembley.
Nacho, however, had more in his locker. His deliveries from out wide were more consistent that Gibbs’. And crucially, the timing of his attacking runs were a little better than his rivals. Not only that but as we were all to discover, Nacho’s defensive merits were among the finest we had.
Which meant Nacho got the nod from the next season onward. And he got his FA Cup moment in the sun – the 4-0 thumping of Aston Villa. But it won’t be this moment we offer our appreciation for nor will he be remembered for this above all else.
During his time with us, Arsenal were known for injuries. Ailments that often affected a particular position on the pitch. All too often we had zero full-backs. Or our entire stock of central defenders were on the treatment table and so Wenger was forced to adapt and use Vik Akers the kit man to fill in as a defensive midfielder.
And it was during one of these blights on our numbers that Nacho Monreal stood up, was counted and we all saw how fantastic a player he was and how committed he was to the badge. Nacho played as centre back on numerous occasions and each time he held the line superbly, no matter who his partner was at the back. Later on toward the end of his Arsenal career, Monreal was often employed as the left side of a three man defence – offering further versatility.
Nacho could ball when he wanted. So many times he came up with the goods, be that a volleyed pinpoint cross or a sumptuous finish (remember that goal against Utd in the FA Cup?), but he mixed this technical ability with the heart of a lion on the pitch.
Aerially, he shouldn’t have been able to compete. Physically, he was unassuming at best. But the man who has the moniker ‘La Cabra’ showed why it’s important not to judge a book by its cover. All too many times he shut down strikers who must have thought their luck was in as they faced down this Spaniard with the wiry frame.
It would have been no surprise to his teammates of course, but Nacho proved that with the right level of desire, anything is possible.
Nacho amassed 187 appearances for us over his six years, winning three FA Cups. And Nacho can rest assured that if he should ever return to The Emirates in a fan or coaching capacity, he will get the heroes welcome he deserves.