Last night Arseblog News pottered down to the Emirates Stadium for the launch of Arsenal’s new home kit for the 2015/16 season. It’s red with white sleeves, in case you missed it…
Before Thierry Henry strutted around looking cool and DJ Gilles Peterson eyeballed the evening’s compère for pronoucing his name incorrectly, we and a few other Gooner bloggers shared a chinwag with left-back Nacho Monreal.
We were all a bit perplexed as to why the Spaniard wasn’t sunning himself on a beach so it was all the more surprising to find him in such a genial mood. Answering in impressively fluent English he opened up on all the questions thrown at him, touching on everything from his relationship with Kieran Gibbs to his scary stint in the centre of defence, Francis Coquelin’s ‘amazing’ comeback and what Arsenal need to do to challenge for the Premier League title.
Do you think playing centre-back at the start of the season made you a better left-back?
Ooof! If I was a better left-back after playing centre-back [then] not bad. During my whole career I played as a left-back, it’s my natural position…not centre-back. It was the first time I played centre-back this season, before I’d never played it. It was something that was difficult for me.
When the boss told me, ‘Nacho, you’re going to play like centre-back,’ I was scared! I was like, ‘Are you speaking seriously?’ I remember the first two games was difficult for me. In the middle you run less but it’s more in the mind. You have to be more focused. You can’t make any mistakes because [if] you make a mistake, it’s a goal probably. It was difficult.
The best thing about playing centre-back was that I was playing for ten games. After that, I was completely fit so when the boss said, ‘Nacho, you come back to playing left-back,’ I was ready to play. It wasn’t starting from the bottom again. I felt strong, I was confident because I was playing. After in the rest of the season I played left-back, like I’ve played always, and it was a good season for me. Two seasons ago I didn’t play, I didn’t defend good.
Why do you think you suffered that drop in form?
Two seasons ago? Yes…my problem is that I’m a player who needs to play every single game. For example, there are some players who play two, three games and they come back and they are completely fit and strong in the mind. It’s not [that way] in my case. I need to play every single game in a row. Two seasons ago, it wasn’t like that. I’m not saying it was the fault of the boss because Kieran Gibbs was playing amazing and the boss has to decide when there are two different players. In this moment Gibbo was playing really well and the boss decided he was who plays.
Given the change in approach to the big away games, do you think you benefitted from being the more defensive of Arsenal’s two left-backs? And do you think Arsene Wenger thinks you’re a better defensive full-back than Kieran Gibbs?
Well, we’re different players. He’s faster than me and defends…not better, we’re just really different. In these moments [against Manchester City and Manchester United away] I felt strong, I was playing well. In these moments I think the most important thing is not to change the team. If I’m playing I need to keep playing. If Kieran Gibbo is playing, he has to play. It’s like that. It’s not good to change one or two players just for one game. In this moment, as I was saying before, I was playing and I felt very strong. It was a good game for Arsenal, we won against Manchester City 2-0, I scored at Old Trafford…good memories for me.
Have you always been a confident finisher and how did you feel when you were through one-on-one against Manchester United against David de Gea?
In these moments you don’t have time to think. I remember the action, Chamberlain passed me the ball and I was lucky because the most important thing in this moment is to make a good control. I did. And after it’s too easy. When you control the ball well, it’s too easy. I saw the hole [at De Gea’s inside post] and I put the ball there. It was a very good moment for me. I am a player who does not score too many goals in my career. So when I score I go crazy.
In the second half of the season the club experienced a huge upswing in form, what was it that made such a difference?
I don’t know. After Christmas the team was really strong, we won 11 or 12 games in a row and we were the same players. For me the most important thing was the atmosphere in the group. It was completely different from the beginning of the season and from the last season. I think we finished strong for this reason.
In the group and in the dressing-room the atmosphere is amazing between all players. Before it was like there were different groups. Obviously it’s normal when there are a lot of people from different countries, it’s normal for the French players to be on one side, the English players, the Spanish players. Now there is just one group and this is very important. What more? Well, I think the best players finished the season fit; like Santi, like Mesut and Alexis. Obviously when these players are fit it gives confidence to the team.
Arsenal have had a lot of injury problems in the recent past, but in the second half of the season they seemed to disappear. Has there been anything different in training or in the gym, directed by the medical staff, that has helped change that?
Obviously it’s very important that all players are fit because the level of the team is higher. We’re a team that has had a lot of injuries in the last ten years. In the last ten years every season we’ve had a minimum of 40 to 50 injuries and [to] the best players. It’s impossible to fight for the Premier League. We fight because we are Arsenal but obviously the level of the team [as a consequence] is a bit down.
In the second half of the season we were lucky in this aspect, most of the players were fit. We had two or three different injuries but it wasn’t like at the beginning of the season when we had ten players [missing]. There was something wrong.
Do you know what was wrong? Can you pinpoint the problem?
I don’t know….I really don’t know. The doctors are the same. If we compare last season with this season, the club signed one fitness coach [Shad Forsythe] but the rest of the staff is the same. The training is the same, everything is the same. It’s difficult for me [to find a problem]. Also I think, when in one season there are 50 to 60 injuries it’s because we’re doing something wrong. It’s not normal. The rest of the teams, that doesn’t happen. Obviously something was wrong, but I am not sure what.
What do Arsenal need to do to win the Premier League next season?
I think we need two things. First we need to keep going like we finished [this season]. We need to keep the [same] level. And the other thing, I think if the club signed one or two top players. We had a lot of injuries, but also we need a player who scores 25 goals per season. We’re lucky because Alexis scored 24 goals and Giroud scored, I dunno…19, something like that. We need more goals to win the Premier League.
The other major change to the side from January onwards was the presence of Francis Coquelin. What difference did he make to the side?
I think he was the best thing for the club! This is football…look, he’s a player who was playing for Charlton in the Championship. At the beginning [of the season] nobody wants him. Then Mikel Arteta got injured, Abou Diaby the same and it was only Flamini. He [Coquelin] came back, but not to play, just to be on the bench, maybe. After, for me he was the best player. He has been the best player, he’s played over 20 games, top every single game. I think he will be a very important player for Arsenal next season. He was amazing.
What do you think of Hector Bellerin?
Hector’s the same. He made a really good pre-season. He was amazing in pre-season. This is football…at the start of the season he was the third right-back because there’s Calum Chambers and Mathieu Debuchy. Debuchy was injured, Chambers the same and he played and played amazing. After when Chambers and Debuchy was fit they didn’t play. And he’s really young!
I am 29 now but I remember when I was playing at 20 I was with Osasuna. Compare Osasuna with Arsenal! I was scared, I was scared…[laughs]…every single game I was scared when I was 20-years-old. He’s playing for one of the best clubs in the world and he looks good.
Who’ll be the Hector Bellerin of next season?
I dunno, there are not a lot many more players younger than Hector. [In the first team squad] there’s only Serge Gnabry and Chuba [Akpom], maybe. It’s difficult to say.
Whose the hardest player you’ve faced in the Premier Leauge and in the world?
In the world, Messi! [laughs] It’s too easy for me to say that. He’s, you know, Messi. But I’ve always made good games against Messi, but it’s impossible to take the ball [from him]. In the Premier League…let me think…the hardest…
Hazard, but I’m lucky as he plays on the other side! I dunno. Here, every single player is difficult. It’s not like in Spain where it’s more tactics and technique. It’s not physical. If you are in your position [in La Liga] you don’t have too many problems, but here maybe you can play against a player who doesn’t have the technique but he’s quick, he’s strong…it’s completely different. The wingers are looking [for the ball] all the time. Every time they want to go one-on-one. This is hard for us because in Spain it’s not like that. They always want to keep the ball, keep the ball, keep the ball, keep the possession.
You’d rather play against Silva and Aguero than James Milner?
[Laughs] It’s true!
In February you posted a video of you and Santi Cazorla playing keepy-uppy in the Arsenal gym, can you tell us about that? Is that something you do regularly?
When we finish the training, every day, we go five or six of us, to play in the gym. We go every single day because we enjoy playing. We’d played like that many days and one day I said to one of the guys, ‘oh record, make a video.’ And it was good! I put it on Twitter and I didn’t expect it [the reaction]. Two thousand people make a retweet. It was funny, it was very funny!
If you had to get a name and number of anyone on the back of your shirt, what would you go for?
Number 3 as when I was at Osasuna I wear that number. And name? Maybe I will put Roberto Carlos. He was my idol, for me he has been the left-back in the world.
In January Arsene Wenger changed the goalkeeper, replacing Wojciech Szczesny with David Ospina. Do you feel that was a positive influence on the team?
I think so. At the beginning, I have to say that I think both keepers are very good keepers. Top keepers. At the start of the season Wojciech Szczesny he was playing. I think there were some mistakes, but unfortunately for him, it wasn’t a sport mistake. Everyone knows that! After that Ospina played really well since the first day. It’s more difficult when you’re a keeper. When you’re a goalkeeper and not playing it’s more difficult in the first moments [you return]. But from the beginning he played really well.
If Wojciech Szczesny had been playing I think he’d have done well too. Ospina played well and when you train hard and you give your best every training session, these things happen. Football is competition. There are two different players for one position. The player who is best in the moment is the man who plays. You have to train hard and play well all season because if you play for three months but don’t keep this level and the other player trains better than you, you go to the bench. It’s fair. It’s good for the team. Look at [Real Madrid keeper] Iker Casillas.
What’s your relationship like with Kieran Gibbs?
It’s good. It’s not the best, but it’s good. For me he’s a really good player, but he’s also a very good person. Obviously he’s my ‘opponent’. We’re fighting for the same thing. I respect him. He’s a very good person. I don’t speak a lot with him, firstly because of the language. It’s difficult for me speaking English…I feel limited. And also because he plays in my position! But for me, I consider him a friend. If I can help him, I do it of course. I’m not thinking about me, I’m thinking about the team. For me the most important thing is the team. If you tell me I play and the team loses, or he plays and the team wins I say, ‘He plays and we win.’ For me the most important thing is the team.