Arsenal: True value of Nacho Monreal shows in his absence

CARDIFF, WALES - SEPTEMBER 02: Nacho Monreal of Arsenal celebrates victory after the Premier League match between Cardiff City and Arsenal FC at Cardiff City Stadium on September 2, 2018 in Cardiff, United Kingdom. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
CARDIFF, WALES - SEPTEMBER 02: Nacho Monreal of Arsenal celebrates victory after the Premier League match between Cardiff City and Arsenal FC at Cardiff City Stadium on September 2, 2018 in Cardiff, United Kingdom. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images) /

Without Monreal in the line-up the Arsenal left has slowly been sussed out. If the Wolves encounter is any indication, the Gunner’s left back situation has officially become an open wound.

Nacho Monreal leads by example. Since the Spaniard went down with a hamstring injury three weeks ago, it is precisely that silent leadership Arsenal have been lacking. He makes that look (you can see it in your mind) and stretches out his arms in such a way that his mates know they need to work harder and keep their heads in the game. Who else holds this sway over the Gunner’s defense?

At first, manager Unai Emery had a plan: Overload the other side of the pitch during attack. In this approach, when possession changed, the other team had to get back into their shape before they could attack our weakened flank. The bonus here was that it also gave the Gunners time to compensate. Against Leicester this worked to perfection.

It almost worked again at Selhurst Park. As you recall, Palace had one chance to attack the stand-in Arsenal left back Granit Xhaka. One chance, and it cost us two points. Such is the danger presented by any Premier League side. But ask yourself, would Nacho have risen to the occasion? I believe so.

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The Liverpool match seemed more an anomaly because the Reds were without their preferred central midfielders, team captain Jordan Henderson and summer acquisition Naby Keita.

By default, the Gunners bossed midfield but still the Reds created chances down the left – and it was Rob Holding and Lucas Torreira who slid over time and again to double and triple cover the threat of Mo Salah. And let’s give Xhaka some credit, he made some timely challenges on the day. But any way you analyze it, I would rather have Nacho Monreal in those situations. Every time.

Enter Wolves. Never mind the midfield mistake which led to the goal. Wolves attacked the left with pace and purpose at every opportunity. Second half substitutions highlighted the absence of Monreal. Every counter and break away started and ended on the Arsenal left and it was only Bernd Leno who kept the Wolves at bay. Where was the left back? He was closer to the Wolves’ end line than his own.

It took four matches to suss out the Arsenal left. The Premier League is a copy-cat league. When managers see something work against their next opponent, they try it out as well. As such, opposing managers stopped concerning themselves with the overload.

Instead they injected pace into their line-ups and asked their players to hoof the ball down the left at every opportunity. Sead Kolasinac gets too far forward. Xhaka is slow. Neither are blessed with elite lateral movement. Ergo“chip the ball over their heads and chase it down” is the new game plan. On the surface, the only way to stop it within the current 4-2-3-1 formation is to hold the left back at midfield and play a back three in attack. Will Emery employ this against Bournemouth? If Monreal is healthy, he will not have to.

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Nacho Monreal sprints back into his defensive position every time Arsenal lose possession. He directs traffic along the way, pointing to his center backs to fill in the space until he can catch up with the play. Where is this dedication and passion from his back up? Where on the Arsenal bench is a left back willing to do the dirty work? This lack of grit is why I feel the Gunner’s left back situation is now an open wound.

The Monreal injury was supposed to be slight. We were informed he was only being held out as a precaution. This was four league games ago. In this time the Gunners have remained undefeated, with one win and three draws.

They have surrendered five goals; they have not kept a clean sheet; and they had to come from behind on all occasion. Three of those games were at home. For individual games you can point to moments where things could have turned the tide either way. But when taking all games into context one thing becomes clear: the true value of Nacho Monreal is now being seen in his absence.

Kolasinac has done well going forward, although we have yet to see any end product. Xhaka held his own in a series of challenges that show his overall value to the club – but also offered no end product as a left back. Stephan Lichtsteiner, I am sure, is enough of a professional to admit to being disappointed in his performance in the position.

This is the Nacho Monreal effect. With four matches on tape; with Emery’s high defensive line; with a tremendous lack of pace on the left side of the pitch, things should only get more and more challenging as we steadily move toward the festive fixtures.

What Arsenal truly need right now is someone who understands how to strike a balance between defending and getting forward. Someone who knows how to move players into their positions with only a glance. Someone who does more that just thump balls into the box, but actually picks out an attacking option.

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What Arsenal truly need right now is Nacho Monreal.