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.
Defensively, 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.