Running the rule over Nacho Monreal

This post will not contain any Nacho jokes. There will be no “that’s Nacho player, Malaga” japes, no “Nacho ate Santos” jibes, and no “I hope you’re better than that horrible film Nacho Libre” tomfoolery.

We don’t have time for that because this is a serious post and football is serious business.

Arsenal signed Nacho Monreal for a reported price of £10m from Spanish outfit, Malaga. The same club that sold Arsenal Santi Cazorla. If the Cazorla signing is any indication, Nacho will fit seamlessly into the Arsenal system. In fact, if he can make a similar jump up in quality that Cazorla made when he switched from Malaga to Arsenal, this signing will be un-Monreal.


Cazorla’s league play numbers are up across the board this season. Key passes are up from 2.2 to 2.5 per game, dribbles from 1.3 to 2.2 per game, dispossessed and turnovers are down from 2.4 and 1.5 to 2 and 1 per game, and where last season he scored 9 goals and had 5 assists in 38 appearances he already has 8 goals and 6 assists for Arsenal this term. Cazorla has been a successful signing, one of Arsene Wenger’s best signings of the last 5 years.

Nacho Monreal’s numbers this season have improved over last season as well, which is exactly what you would hope for a player just coming into the prime of their football career at age 26. His stats didn’t take a massive jump, just slightly better, which is also a good sign, meaning he shows consistency.

As you will see in a second, Arsenal actually already have a beast of a left back in Kieran Gibbs. The Englishman has had an impressive season for Arsenal racking up 3 assists, leading Arsenal with 3.2 interceptions per game, and significantly improving his crossing over last year with 12 successful crosses this season compared to 5 all of last year (in League play).

To get a sense of Nacho Monreal and where he ranks in terms of left backs I compared him with known highly rated defenders like Everton’s Leighton Baines and Barcelona’s Jordi Alba. I also wanted to see how he compared to Arsenal’s first choice, Kieran Gibbs, and my overall first choice for a purchase which was Frankfurt’s Bastian Oczipka.


In terms of goals, Baines is the best left back in the world right now. But any goals from a full back are really a bonus and the reason why Baines has 5 goals is because he features so prominently in Everton’s attack. In fact, Baines’ Key Passes numbers are so high because he takes almost all of Everton’s free kicks. It’s also the reason he has such high crossing numbers, which you will see in a second.

Nacho does, however, have 2 assists on just 6 key passes making him the most efficient of the fullbacks I looked at. It’s interesting that Wenger stated he sees Monreal as almost a wing player because his attacking numbers are very low, however those low numbers of key passes, assists, and shots could be a function of Malaga’s system. It is certainly something we will have to look at when he plays for Arsenal, which as we already know requires the fullbacks to play a more wing-back role.

Nacho-dribblesDefensively, as I said above, Gibbs is a beast. 7 blocks alone is impressive for a fullback but clearances, interceptions, and tackles numbers are also very good. The one place where he does struggle is in letting the opposition dribble past him. 17 is a poor number there for a Premier League player, 18 by Oczipka looks worse but it’s not as bad because the Bundesliga features more dribbling than the Premier League. But Nacho’s low dribbled numbers and high percentage of aerial duels won is something that I think will endear him to Arsenal fans who are tire of seeing Santos bypassed on a regular basis. The Brazilian already has been dribbled 12 times in just 8 appearances, 5 as a sub. That’s terrible.


And finally, if you’ve read my musings on stats you’ll know that I place an extraordinarily high value on players who have few turnovers and who make good through passes. Both of these I see as technical skills and indicate a player with good touch (turnovers are unforced errors) and good vision (that splitting pass is one of the more difficult skills to master). Only Leighton Baines has completed even a single through ball and as noted earlier leads everyone in crosses because he takes most if not all of Everton’s free kicks. That 221 crosses attempted is not because he’s blazing forward and pumping in ball after ball from the wings.

But Monreal’s dispossessed and turnover numbers are very impressive for a player who handles the ball as much as he does. If, however, that’s because Malaga kept him back in the defense more and Arsenal use him more forward, you should see his dispossessed numbers rise. The further forward a player plays the more likely they are to be on the end of a tackle, which you already know, right?

The overall picture painted by Monreal’s stats is one of a conservative defender who is tidy in possession, has great touch, tackles well, isn’t dribbled on often, and who wins a surprising percentage of his aerial duels. Precisely the opposite of Arsenal’s current reserve fullback, Andre Santos.

Hopefully, he makes the same leap that his former teammate from Malaga made when coming to Arsenal. If he does, Wenger could have polished up another gem.


32 thoughts on “Running the rule over Nacho Monreal

  1. +4 Vote -1 Vote +1nycgunner

    I feel that the full back position is the only position at Arsenal that is equally important to both defense and offense due to our system, so this was a very important signing that needed to be made given that there is a possibility that Gibbs is out long term and has a long history of being injury prone. I mean, can you imagine us playing Santos as the left wing back for the rest of the season? That’s a scary thought.

    Can’t help but feel slightly dejected at not signing a striker but from all accounts it sounds like we tried to get Villa but Barca wouldn’t budge. If that’s the kind of experience and quality we are looking for then I can see why there weren’t any backups to Villa. You would be hard pressed to find that in the summer let alone January. So I just have to shrug it off and keep the faith. Hey maybe Benik Afobe will surprise us this season with a brace in the FA cup!

  2. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Bunburyist

    Those are great aerial numbers! He must have practiced with his older brother, Peter Crouch.

    Eh? … Eh?

    I’m glad we signed him. Gibbs can be injury prone, and I’ve always felt we needed reliable back-up / alternates for that position. So…Wenger can see a need and fill it after all…which makes it all the more baffling why other positions weren’t strengthened this window. We are one injury to Giroud away from being absolutely fucked. For instance.

  3. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1nycgunner

    Btw excellent analysis. I really hope he can settle into the team immediately and bring some stability to our defense. Teams have too much success targeting our wing backs and fingers crossed we are able to push back a little bit.

  4. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1BayGooner

    Excellent analysis. Thanks. Two questions:

    One: regarding Gibbs, how much are his stats — positive or negative, due to having Sagna on the other side? Don’t teams attack the left more anyway, partly because right-footed players are more numerous, and because that means one doesn’t attack Sagna?

    Two: Is there a way to distill stats to get team profiles — You mention maybe Malaga play differently. Anything more definite to be devined from the stats? Clearly, Baines is used differently. And Gibbs being dribbled by means what? That Arsenal play more aggressively on the wing than anyone else?

  5. Vote -1 Vote +1Nikki

    Gibbs already has a goal right?
    I have to admit, just like you said, an offensive stats number make the players seems better then the rest. When I see the comparing stats of Montreal and Baines, I feel we have lost the chance to bring a fantastic player to Arsenal. But is that what we suppose to be thinking or maybe the first stats that we should be looking for first in a defender is the defensive stats?
    I imagine Montreal will be like Sagna, which is reliable in defense. Then maybe Jenkinson will be the more offensive fullbacks or maybe some new RB with an impressive offensive stats numbers. All in all, I can’t wait to see him play in an Arsenal shirts.

  6. -1 Vote -1 Vote +1Caribkid

    This transfer window has reaffirmed, at least in my mind, that Wenger’s selling of Song last summer was by design and we are now returning full tilt to the post Gilberto era when we got rid of the DM position and used B2B MF’s like Denilson and Cesc to sit in front of the back 4.

    I thought that was the case when he sold Song and installed Arteta as the militia man in MF, this has been reinforced by his recent experiment with Ramsey in that position and his failure to pick up a true DMF in the window although there was so much availability at decent prices in the form of M’bwia, M’Villa, Capoue, Diamy, etc.

    With our use of FB’s to create width and and utilization of our favored high line, this formation places extreme pressure on our CB’s, especially since we don’t retain possession as much as we did in the past. What is even more amazing is that we are the only top team I know of presently which tries to use this type of formation. Even Barca uses a DM in front of the CB’s with Busquets being their staple. Last season they used Keita and Mascherano to back up Busquets and with keita leaving, Song has assumed that role.

    The only teams I can remember having success with this style was Le Orange and Ajax under Cryuff and the Brazilian national teams in the 60′s and early 70′s.

    This formation failed us in the recent past, so it’s very difficult to understand why it succeed now, especially since we have less talent.

      1. Vote -1 Vote +1Caribkid

        Then therein lies the questions.

        Why sell Song with 3 years remaining on his contract without first having someone in the bag as a replacement?

        Why sell your leading assist player and your top goal scorer without like for like replacements?

        Why gamble on Arteta when he has never played that position previously?

        Why sell Song to Barcelona, your main CL opponent?

        I have no answers Tim, only questions.

  7. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1nycgunner

    I have a slightly different take on this. While I agree that in our system a MFer needs to come in and cover for our FBs when they are upfield, I don’t think you necessarily need a defensive MFer. If your MFer’s positioning is good and he can break up plays whether by tackling or intercepting, he will be able to do this. The whole point of having two box to box MFers is that one will stay back and cover while the other helps in attack. We had these same defensive problems when we did play Song as the “holding” MF player – and I’m not talking about the 2012 season when he constantly moved up to help the offense.

    Barcelona is an interesting example because they actually have similar defensive problems like we do ( susceptible to the counter attack and shaky at defending set pieces). Difference is their attack is so much better than these problems don’t scream out at you. More importantly they defend as a team which makes the job easier for the defense. If we did that as well as Barca do, I can guarantee you we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

    I think at the end of the day it comes down to the quality of the player we have in MF and right now I think we are somewhat lacking in the box to box role. Maybe Ramsey can develop into that role but he needs to work on the defensive side of his game. His positioning isn’t bad but he needs to develop a bit of a hard side. So I guess I agree with you in one sense that we do need a MFer but not necessarily a purely defensive one – just someone who has a better defensive side to their game.

    1. Vote -1 Vote +1Caribkid

      My position is not that it can’t work, but it doesn’t work if you play a high line and expect both FB’s to provide width. Secondly, for it to work, you need exceptional quality all over the pitch and a high possession %. Barca recognizes that and plays an inverted V at the back with a true DM. Also, you hardly ever find both Barca FB’s higher than the MF’s simultaneously. It obviously works.

      Watch most Arsenal games and you will find that in an attacking posture, both our FB’s are ahead of our 2 deepest MF’s for the majority.

      For me, it’s all about shape and formation. Don’t quite know if that is instilled in this team enough.

      1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1nycgunner

        Ah ok.. I follow what you are saying. You can play still play a high line as long as you dont have both FBs playing up front. Yes we do that sometimes and its suicidal. I doubt how much help a defensive MFer will be though. You can’t expect him to cover both full backs at the same time. The issue then is not the lack of a defensive MFer but rather a fundamental flaw in tactics.

      2. Vote -1 Vote +1Caribkid

        A true DM works in that situation when you play like Barca and most other teams. If you take notice, Puyol and Pique will play very wide and the DM slips into the middle of the inverted V. This allows both CB’s to partially cover their wings while the DM (normally more mobile) covers the central area and the GK plays high up to create a defensive diamond.

  8. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Arsenal Letters

    Although this is a thread on our acquisition of Monreal and his relative performance at LB, I would like to talk a little about Vermaalen and Mertesacker as their display against Liverpool really bordered on catastrophic. I think the dreadful performance of Santos diverted attentiaon away from how miserable our centerbacks were.

    Two instances in the game really bothered me.

    The first one is when Liverppol broke in the first half when Cazorla’s shot was blocked, and the ball was played to Stupid Downing who started running with the ball on the left hand side. If you watch that counterattack again, you will see that Vermaalen inexplicably decides to charge on Downing and tracks him on that wide right channel, indicating to Mertesacker to cover. The problem is at that very time, Henderson and Suraze are running towards Mertesacker, Santos playing everbofy onside onthe far left, and when Downing’s ball finds Henderson, there is absolutely no one between him and Szczesny in a 25 yard radius. Now why on earth Vermaalen is charging like that leaving this incredible gap behind? Why does he leave Mertesacker who lacks pace so exposed against two off the ball runners through the center.

    The same thing then happens again in the build up to Liverpool’s second. Suarez play a diagonal to our left, Sturridge controls it close to the center circle, and Vermaalen charges towards Sturridge! If you look carefully, you will see that at that point when Vermaalen charges towards Sturridge, the midfield duo of Ramsey and Wilshere are actually closer to Sturridge than Vermaalen and when Vermaalen tries to tackle Sturridge, the tackle takes place in an area where Wilshere and Ramsey are behind Vermaalen. When Sturridge is quick to play to Henderson, now there is no defensive shape, Mertesacker is drawn out to the left, and there is nobody on his right, and on his left Santos is 15 yards away. By deciding to charge so needlessly, Vermaalen basically messes up the whole defensive organization and shape of the back four. I mean this is our “experienced captain” for fuck’s sake.

    I am all for dishing out at Santos, but Vermaalen was equally dreadful against Liverpool!!

  9. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1BayGooner

    One last thing — did any of our rivals for top four achieve anything as certain of success as Arsenal with Nacho Man? Maybe Chelsea with Ba-ba-ba-babaran, but United, Spurs, Everton, Swansea, City? Zilch. Nil. Rien. Nada. I’d add City, too, though some people feel they’ll be better without the districation of Mario.

    I like ArsenalLetters remark, too. Santos is hardly the cause of our recent defensive woes. Or the weakest link.

  10. Vote -1 Vote +11NiltotheArsenal

    1) This is a broken record by now, but the utter and abject lack of consistency from game to game and even from half to half.

    2) The utter and abject lack of a consistent playmaker on defense. What Vermalaen’s role once was before he completely lost his mojo. We need a Vidic, a Kompany, a Baines, a Cahill, a Vertonghen. All the teams with these players are above us in the table.

  11. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Caribkid

    Ode To Nacho Man – Sung to Macho Man

    In Nacho we trust, for no way will he rust
    With a hint of steel like the Sagna man
    Nacho man will never be an also ran,
    He will kick TV if he gets in his way
    And many crosses to Giroud he will splay.

    Nacho, nacho, man , I’ll be a nacho man
    Arsenal will not be an also ran.

    Although only 5’ 10” tall
    Unlike Gibbs, he will head the ball
    And unlike Santos, he has total recall,
    Armed with no fear each and every day
    Nacho man will amaze us with his display.

    Nacho, nacho, man , I’ll be a nacho man
    Arsenal will not be an also ran.

    He will be aware of many Tottenham tricks
    And all defensive boxes he will tick
    While teaching Lennon a lesson with his mighty kicks,
    Santi and Arteta will teach him a few
    And when he plays the Spuds he will teach them anew.

    Nacho, nacho, man , I’ll be a nacho man
    Arsenal will not be an also ran.

    1. Vote -1 Vote +1highburyterracesteve

      Wow CK….Didn’t realize you were a poet/songwriter among your many talents….

      News reports suggest Wenger may be dropping both Santos and the Captain (“injured”) for tomorrow’s match. Would indicate that he’s on board with some of the things others are picking up upon.

      I agree with your analysis above about pressure on FBs. In truth, I think two deep lying MFs with better ball skills could get the job done. See my talk about playing Santi deeper (alongside Arteta) over on the YAMA….

      A bigger problem which I also don’t get is why we expect players with such different styles to work so well together. It’s real bad at CB. Per has the eye for organizing the high line but no recovery speed if others blow it. His stab tackling is actually OK, but it looks ungainly when it fails (2nd goal vs ‘Pool).

      The preferred pairing is obviously Kos and TV5 who both are playmakers and much faster runners. Personally I rate Kos as better at reading the game and making plays. I think some of his calamitous errors can also be traced to the two distinct types we have in goal: Sneezy, a confident (overconfident, “I’ve got it”) keeper and Mannone a rooted to the line, zero talk kind of player. That soft goal (Mata I think) vs Chelsea should have been Don Vitos. Still haunted by the League Cup final loss, as well. Of course he needs to stop wrapping his arms around people when he’s wrong-sided…..

      Again, however, it’s about rigidity and trying to fit very different types into one system. Of course it’s tougher to find similar styled players of adequate quality while shopping in the bargain aisles…..

  12. Vote -1 Vote +1Zeddington

    Yeah, he’s no Giroud to look at is he? No matter.

    So is this it for Santos? I’d like to think not, I’d like to think he has a role in this team. I’ve always thought he’d be a better left winger than defender, and maybe this will be his chance to show it in any absence of Podolski (and Gervais). He’s always enjoyed attacking more, and drifting inside some. A friend of mine who is a mad Corinthians fan says he would be very glad to have him back.

    I wonder what will happen with him. I hope he either stays and makes himself useful elsewhere, or goes without becoming ‘deadwood’.

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