19th January 2016: Monreal extends contract + Nwakali and Chukwueze to sign?

Evening all. Like Gabriel and hopefully in time Mohamed Elneny, Nacho Monreal is a player who disproves the theory that you can’t find quality in the January transfer market.

The Spanish full-back arrived from Malaga at the end of the winter window coming up to three years ago now, and although it’s probably fair to say he struggled a little initially, a stint as an emergency centre-back last season was the making of him as an Arsenal player in my opinion.

It forced him to improve his physicality in the challenge – both aerially and on the ground – and he’s carried the confidence gained from that successful re-stationing back to his more natural left-back role. He’s now not only indisputably our first-choice left-back, but also arguably the finest in his position in the league, based on his form over the last 12 months or so.

So it was very pleasing to read today that Monreal has signed a new long-term contract with the club, especially in light of recurring rumours over the last year or so linking him with a move back to Spain with Athletic Bilbao.

His manager Arsene Wenger was full of praise for Monreal when he spoke to Arsenal Player, hailing the Spanish international’s versatility, professionalism and positive influence over younger team-mates. The boss said:

He is a very important player at the club because he can play left-back and centre back. He has the consistency in his performances that is requested at the top level. Overall, his attitude has been absolutely fantastic on a daily basis since he arrived here. He’s 100 per cent committed and I think as well he has always improved since he has arrived and has shown that in many big games as well. He’s calm, focused and dedicated. He’s well-accepted and loved by his partners. He has the modest approach of a player who wants to give his best to the team. Everybody senses that and that’s why I think it’s important for the club to have that stability. Everyone in the Premier League would say that he has become a very strong player. Arsenal are gifted at the moment, I must say, with two top-class left backs. We have many young players. They need to be surrounded by experienced players, especially at the back. We now have experience at the back. Nacho is part of that – he’s a good example for the young players and we have a good bunch of young players. We have seen another one with Alex Iwobi the other day, who has shown talent. They need to see how you behave at that level.

Nacho himself discussed his new deal when also speaking with the official club site, citing his relationship with his team-mates and his manager as reasons behind his decision to extend his stay with the Gunners:

I’m really happy because my intention was to keep playing for Arsenal. I feel really good playing here. I have a good relationship with my team-mates and we keep improving year after year. I wanted to stay here and I could extend my contract. I would like to play here for many more years. The trust of the Arsenal fans is really important for us because they are helping us in every moment as we are fighting to win the Premier League. I met the boss three years ago and I have a really good relationship with him and I’m really happy with him. For these reasons I extended my contract.

When you consider Nacho’s not the most athletic of players; he’s not outstandingly quick or strong and standing at 5’8 ft, he’s hardly a towering presence, he has to rely on his intelligence, reading of the game and typically high-class Spanish technique.

But as Barcelona and Spain’s success has highlighted over the last decade or so, you don’t have to be built like Anthony Joshua or be as quick as Usain Bolt to be a great player, you just have to be a genuinely good footballer and that’s what Nacho is. Unlike, if I’m brutally honest, too many ‘players’ we produce over here in Britain, who may be great athletes but are bang average, and in some cases, simply poor, footballers. That’s a conversation for another time though.

Getting back to Monreal, I think this montage (mute if you’re at work, but I totally get why those lyrics are suitable – some of our other players that night weren’t the most proactive of defenders) exemplifies what an intelligent and effective full-back he’s become for us. Up against more pacey and physically robust opponents in Nathaniel Clyne and Jordan Ibe, Nacho produced a mini-masterclass, despite us conceding three times.

Just one other very quick thing before I go and there was a report today saying we’ve reached an agreement to sign highly-rated Nigerian teenagers Kelechi Nwakali and Samuel Chukwueze, subject to attaining work permits and visas.

This follows on from last week’s reports that we were competing with the likes of Bayern Munich and Manchester City for their signatures, so if true, we’ll have done well to fend off rival interest and we can add two more promising young talents to our youth ranks.

See you in a bit.

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