Creators and strikers tend to receive a majority of the attention when it comes to soccer teams. After all, they are the ones making the pinpoint through balls and bending shots into the top corner of the goal. They are also the ones raking in the big bucks. The camera does not pan back to the exhausted defender that made a crucial tackle 30 seconds prior to a match-winning goal. These moments are, once again, exclusively reserved for the players that big the ball into the back of the net.
When discussing the Arsenal team specifically, the north London club have outstanding offensive players such as Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Özil, and Alexandre Lacazette. With this tremendous talent moving up the pitch, it can be easy to forget about some of the things that happen back in the team’s own half of the field. The Gunners have, after all, managed to keep three consecutive clean sheets during Premier League play since the misery in Merseyside a month ago.
Arsenal’s attack has been their biggest asset since the arrival of manager Arsene Wenger over two decades ago. Nevertheless, there is a defender in the squad that deserves significantly more credit than he gets: Nacho Monreal. The Spain international transferred to the Gunners in January of 2013 with very little fanfare. Arsenal were sixth in the Premier League table at the time of the transfer announcement, and he was initially brought in due to left back Kieran Gibbs becoming injured days beforehand.
While Monreal cost the team just £8.3 million, the Spaniard turned out to be a quintessential Wenger value buy. Not flashy nor garish, Monreal has just quietly gotten the job done for the Gunners in his nearly five years with the club. The former Malaga defender has only scored one goal in his 140 Premier League appearances with Arsenal, but scoring goals is not necessarily his forte. Instead, Monreal is a remarkably intelligent defender. He manages one-on-one situations brilliantly and has a knack for collecting important interceptions and tackles.
In the current campaign, Monreal has undoubtedly been the club’s unsung hero. The aforementioned Lacazette has four league goals, and Sead Kolasinac has certainly been yet another outstanding Wenger buy (he was free), but Monreal been an absolute rock in defense for the Gunners. Leading the team in most of the important defensive statistics so far this season, he even ranks highly when you include all Premier League players.
* among players in the ‘Big 6’
^ among players with at least 300 minutes
Despite these impressive numbers, you will not be seeing Monreal create new dance moves on Instagram or get into fights with opposing players on the pitch. He just handles his business like Tom Hagen from The Godfather: straightforward and incisive.
It must be said that although Monreal is still producing well at 31-years-old, he did previously nearly depart the club. At left back, he was never a particularly pacy player. However, since Wenger has switched to three at the back, and in turn making Monreal the left center back, he has been revitalized in the new role. The switch will surely prolong his career with the club. Monreal is currently under contract until 2019.
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