I wanted to spend a little bit of time today to talk a of an unsung hero. A player who has been an almost ever-present in the Arsenal team this season, yet rarely do I take to social media and see his name mentioned.

I’m sure the manager has referenced him before at some stage over the last month or two, but I have rarely done so when writing post-match blogs or general musings, so I thought I’d take a wee bit of time today to appreciate the value and contribution that he adds not just to the squad, but this season to the first team too.

It’s Nacho Monreal who is the subject of my thoughts today. Bought in just under two years ago, he’s had an interesting time at The Arsenal to say the least. £8million for a left back, when Kieran Gibbs was clearly first choice at the time (albeit injured when we signed Nacho), seemed like a lot of money for a player with whom would nominally be a substitute or used in rotation. It’s unlike Arsène to go out and spunk a wedge of cash that big on a fella with whom he’s unlikely to see develop as a youngster and eventually overtake the man currently holding down that position. That’s the sort of signing that Arsène likes to spend that kind of money on. Yet here was an established Spanish international who was coming in for competition with Gibbs and along with the previous signings of Cazorla, Podolski and Giroud, was at an age where he was mature enough to see himself as a first team regular and not an up-and-coming contender.

Last season was a difficult one for Nacho I thought, because he had bedded in to the team having signed in the previous January, but found his playing time more limited by the continued fitness of Gibbs. Nacho’s role in the team was constricted to that of the archetypal squad player: playing in FA Cup games, the occasional league games and often coming on as a sub, interestingly enough quite often not for Gibbs, but as a more forward-lying left sided midfielder.

I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t think Nacho would get as much game time as he has this season and if you’d have asked me in the summer which first team players would start to angle for a move come January, I’d have put Podolski, Nacho and Cazorla as the key men. Obviously we know about Santi’s sparkling form and Poldi has left for distant shores, but Nacho has been this season’s surprise package for me. We’ve found out something about our Spaniard that we did not know before this season: he has versatility.

Just think about the positions he’s played since joining Arsenal; left back, left midfield/wing, plus this season at centre half and do you know what? I think he’s done well in the most part in all positions. Let’s not forget that he’d never played as a centre half before in his career, yet this season he’s been asked to step in to one of the most physical leagues in the world. He isn’t the most physically imposing player in the league, yet he’s been going toe-to-toe with Premier League strikers, most of whom are big physical presences or lightning quick. Or sometimes both.

Yet I can only think of one or two occasions in which he has looked slightly out of place at centre half. Sure, we have been shocking defensively at times this season, but I don’t recall it being because of Nacho’s individual errors, or poor positioning. Perhaps that’s because we’ve lacked protection at the back by our midfielders? Certainly when you look at the protection afforded the back four on Sunday, it makes you wonder how much more solid we could have been, had we been able to field better defensive minded players to screen the back four during those weeks in which Nacho was a regular at centre back. The game at Moneychester City has shown the Arsenal players that defending can be so much more easier for the back four if there is more protection and less space for playmakers to pick up the ball in pockets of space and play balls in behind defenders.

So on to that game at the weekend, in which Monreal reassumed his more favoured role of left back and was quite different to when we played at the Etihad last season, where many saw him as one of the weakest links in the chain that day. He didn’t have the greatest of games, but I seem to recall that up until the City game last season, he hadn’t played much football. Asking a player not 100% up to speed and probably not having had the chance to play himself into form, to go to the eventual champions and put on a stellar display, is probably quite a tough ask.

Yet this season he showed what happens when a player is given enough game time. I saw a Monreal who was snapping into tackles early, trying to win the ball quickly from Navas, or the nearest player on that side. I also saw a Monreal who showed that he can be very effective going forward. It was his ‘give and go’ that led to our penalty and first blood being drawn. He had a really good game at the weekend and the fact that Arsène is keeping him in the team ahead of Gibbs is a very telling statement of the form the Spaniard is in.

Much like Santi, Nacho is in the team on merit and I hope he keeps his place, because that means he’s playing well and the chances are so are we. As the season reaches ‘squeaky bum time’, we need as many players hitting top form as possible, so seeing that Arsène is having selection headaches all over the park is exactly what we want as fans.

Keep it up Nacho, keep it up.