Arsenal Focus – Monreal brings composure and depth

It was a month filled with speculation, rumours and conjecture at the Emirates Stadium. Was David Villa set to switch Catalonia for north London? Was Mohamed Diame going to come in to beef up the Gunners midfielder? Or was manager Arsene Wenger finally going to dig deep into his vast pockets and shell out on the prolific Edinson Cavani?

Well, the answer to all of those questions was a resounding negative. Wenger held his nerve until the last moment in the January transfer window before making just one swoop as the deadline neared – left-back Nacho Monreal joining the Arsenal ranks from La Liga side Malaga.

The 26-year-old Spanish international joins the club as competition for current left-sided defenders Kieran Gibbs and Andre Santos and his arrival was widely greeted with optimism by Gunners supporters.

Left-back has been a problem position for Arsenal ever since Gael Clichy left for Manchester City in summer 2011. As a youthful English prospect, Gibbs was expected to take on the mantle from Clichy but he has been badly affected by a succession of injuries and knocks which have stilted his development.

Brazilian Andre Santos was recruited from Fenerbahce to provide competition with Gibbs. However Santos is not a left-sided defender by strict definition – rather, he is a pure wing back and struggles in defensive situations.

As a result, he has had to endure plenty of abuse from Arsenal fans who have become frustrated by his often inept performances. True, their opinions on Santos were not helped by the fact that the 29-year-old swapped shirts with ex-Gunner Robin van Persie during half-time in a match against Manchester United.

Wenger is insistent that Santos still has a future at the Emirates Stadium but the introduction of Monreal, if nothing else, removes the Brazilian from the spotlight, for a short period at least. The abuse he has had to tolerate has been toxic.

Monreal made his debut in the weekend’s hard-fought 1-0 home victory over Stoke City and put in an assured performance. He wasn’t really tested defensively as the Potters arrived in north London with the sole intention of holding the Gunners to a goalless draw.

However, going forward Monreal was confident and composed – a welcome alternative to the ‘headless chicken’ nature of Santos. The only negative to a fine performance was a sliced shot from long-range, although he was probably tempted to pull the trigger because his confidence was so high.

But what now for Kieran Gibbs, who will have been watching on from the sidelines? Touted as a future regular England international, he may find it difficult to force his way back into Arsene Wenger’s first choice XI.

The Gunners should see that as a positive though. For the first time in several seasons, Wenger has assembled a squad with genuine jostling for first team positions. The main winner in that situation is Arsenal Football Club – competition for places isn’t a bad consolation prize for missing out on David Villa.

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