Whisper it, but sometimes, just sometimes, karma does dish out its own form of retribution. Occasionally, the people who perform above and beyond the call of duty receive their just desserts.
Step forward Nacho Monreal.
With the recent news that the Spanish full-back has been awarded a contract extension, it would seem that if you need evidence that people get what they deserve, this is it.
Nacho Monreal during this season has been the epitome of consistency. He has been at the fulcrum of excellence, the veritable cream that has risen to the top. The defender who joined in 2013 for a paltry £7m has simply taken on all obstacles and grown game by game. He is the poster boy for what can be achieved with a wholly committed attitude.
It wasn’t always this way though. Nacho wasn’t always so accomplished.
Monreal’s first season was always going to be difficult. Any player who joins a new club in the middle of the season – Nacho joined in the January window of the 2013/14 season – will struggle to force himself into proceedings. If you also consider that this was a player who had spent his entire career in the technically sound but physically undemanding La Liga, then his beginnings were always going to err towards a toilsome time.
Monreal gamely played through the strain, but the stamina levels and awareness towards his defensive needs weren’t always so sharp. Indeed, his first season was such hardship that teams were targeting his flank as Nacho floundered with the Premier League and its own set of rigours.
So many times, he was caught out on the attack. Even when hemmed in defence, he more often than not had to contend with two players on the rampage. Word had spread that this new Spanish defender who resembled Peter Crouch’s shorter brother was easy pickings. Kieran Gibbs – his positional rival – took the reins for the majority and the season’s showpiece – the F.A Cup Final versus Hull City – would be enjoyed from the bench by Nacho.
The summer break could not come quickly enough for Monreal. Surely, after such a tough welcoming to the Premiership, the Spaniard must have been doubting whether a move away from Spain was the right move?
The 2014/15 season was Nacho’s rebirth.
A crisis is either the chance a person takes or they let it consume them. Nacho hails from the former category. A lack of defensive bodies saw first Mathieu Debuchy and then Monreal fill in at centre-back as Arsene Wenger utilised all the players at his disposal. Bodies were thin on the line. Surely the waif-like figure of Monreal would be bait to the majority of strikers? This would be the death knell of Arsene Wenger some thought.
I, along with the majority of Gooners, wondered whether Monreal was up to it. He was just starting to find his feet in his preferred role, and now he was expected to fill in at centre-back?
We should never have let it trouble us. He was an excellent partner for Mertesacker and his assured displays showed his defensive nous. He had everything necessary for a top-flight defender. He just had to acclimatise.
Since his short time as Mertesacker’s partner in the centre, Nacho has been sensational. In fact, it would be fair to say he now could claim to be the Premier League’s best left-back. Of course, this article is biased – but what player comes remotely close?
His postioning is exemplary, and he adjusts this from game to game dependant on who his partner on the left is. His all-round awareness is fantastic. When faced with a winger intent on going past, the sight of Monreal first tackling the opposition and then with his head up looking to effectively distribute is becoming a regularity.
He is difficult to pass. He is one of the best outlets when under pressure. He can even compete aerially. Quite frankly, Nacho Monreal ranks as the best left-back Arsenal have had since Ashley Cole.
In fact it wouldn’t be a huge leap to suggest that our Nacho is among the best in his position in Europe.
He more than deserves his contract extension. Such is his stock currently, he could quite easily have sounded out some major European heavyweight team for a cash-packed move. The fact he is more than happy to stay says everything for the team spirit and Monreal’s own happiness.
Long may it continue. The man who has suffered the most during Monreal’s ascendance – Kieran Gibbs – could do worse than take some notes when Nacho is training. If he could pick up the habits that the Spanish defender has bred since joining, then Gibbs would be in an excellent position to take up the mantle when Monreal inevitably looks to home as his body yearns for a slower pace in a few years.
As it is, our club can boast of a defender that could hold the key to keeping quiet the worlds deadliest strikeforce – Messi, Suarez and Neymar. With his consistently high level, Nacho has made a rod for his own back. These high demands are all his own doing.