Proof that Nacho Monreal is the real deal


Any international encounter involving France has habitually caught the eye of Arsenal fans in the last decade. Yet the interest wasn't so much in Didier Deschamps' side on this occasion. Where occupants of N5 once comprised the blue blood running through France's veins, only Laurent Koscielny started from Arsène Wenger's stable, with Olivier Giroud making an all-too-hurried late cameo.

Tuesday's World Cup qualifier against La Roja attracted Gunners with a different hook, and the outstanding performance of recent arrival Nacho Monreal built significantly on the early promise that the left-back has shown during his first few weeks in north London.

Vicente del Bosque has - like the rest of the Spanish football community - been well aware of Monreal's qualities for some time, but the former Málaga man would not have been chosen in ideal circumstances. When undisputed first-choice Jordi Alba held his thigh in Friday's draw with Finland, one senses a collective gulp.

Ahead of playing at the home of a transitional, but always athletic, France side, Alba's absence threatened to hit hard. The 24-year-old has been one of the keys of Spain's continued success in the past year or so - the one discernible improvement that the Euro 2012 line-up held on the World Cup 2010 vintage, an indefatigable athlete always at the top of Valencia's and then Barcelona's distance-covered stats, and the scorer of a crucial goal in the Kiev final to boot. 

The marathon man would have been the perfect match for France's physicality, with the French media evoking the likelihood of Deschamps deploying the similarly strong Moussa Sissoko of Newcastle to counter Alba.

Monreal was spared this, but instead faced Mathieu Valbuena, France's in-form creative force, albeit more habitually in a central role. With Valbuena's predilection for dropping inside together with Karim Benzema's keenness to drift wide and Franck Ribéry swapping wings, Monreal had his hands full.

He coped admirably, with France's moments of real threat coming from straight balls over the top from deep, occasionally catching out Sergio Ramos and Gerard Piqué. On the occasion of his 11th cap, and only a second competitive appearance for Spain ever at 27, Monreal was impeccable, with his mastery thrown into sharp relief by the struggles of his opposite number, the highly-experienced Patrice Evra.

Like Alba, Evra was converted from a winger and unlike with the Barcelona man, it is a seam that is showing more and more as time goes by. Monreal, on the other hand, is quite old-fashioned in full-back terms, a pure defender whose timing and reading of the game are his outstanding features.

Having scored his only ever Málaga goal in his final La Liga appearance for them, Monreal has already shown his attacking side at Arsenal, scoring a crucial opener at Swansea and setting up an equally-important winner for erstwhile Málaga teammate Santi Cazorla against Aston Villa. He helped to break France open when they were resisting most stubbornly, surging into the space that right-back Christophe Jallet left behind him and supplying the perfect cross for Pedro to bundle in the winner.

If Spain's performance at the Stade de France was the perfect riposte to those who dared suggest they were on the wane, Monreal was every bit that display in microcosm. Del Bosque now has two world-class options in what was once Spain's weakest position. La Furia Roja are getting stronger, not weaker. 

Read more European football insight from Andy Brassell