Friends reunited: Monreal follows Azpilicueta's path to London

By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer

Osasuna’s reserve team plays in Spain’s Segunda Division B and has seen many a talented young player emerge before moving on to greater things. In 2005-06, the wonderfully named Promesas side was indeed full of young prospects – and one of the finest footballers of all was Nacho Monreal.

Nacho starred on the left side of the defence in that team, while his great friend Cesar Azpilicueta impressed on the right. Top-class full-backs may be a declining commodity in the modern game, but Osasuna produced two talents at once – one on each flank.

Their paths have been linked from the very beginning. First Monreal moved up to the first team, then Azpilicueta followed. Nacho made his senior debut at Mestalla, Cesar at the Bernabeu. Big games; even greater prospects.

Azpilicueta eventually joined Marseille in 2010 and Monreal signed for Malaga the following January. Now the two friends are reunited in London, with Cesar at Chelsea and Nacho at Arsenal. Pamplona will be proud.

“At just 26 (he is 27 later in February), the Navarran is also approaching his best years and represents a shrewd signing by Wenger”

Monreal has been capped nine times by Spain and is widely considered to be La Roja‘s second-best left-back, after Jordi Alba, and he has been on the radar of both Barcelona and Real Madrid recently, although the Catalans preferred to sign their former youth player last summer in a €14 million deal from Valencia.

Alba and Monreal are very different players. Nacho is less spectacular going forward than his international team-mate, but perhaps the more accomplished defensively. Technically gifted and astute positionally, Monreal is a brave and hard-working full-back who possesses impressive aerial ability, is a strong tackler, is comfortable on the ball and boasts a decent range of passing. In short, he has all the attributes to be a success in the Premier League.

A move to the Gunners almost happened in the summer and Monreal has since been learning English. A humble and level-headed man who shuns the limelight, the glitter and the glamour of the modern game, Nacho will work hard to make the move a success. And with Azpilicueta just down the road and former Malaga team-mate Santi Cazorla also at Arsenal, he should have no problems settling in, especially under Wenger, who is always ready to offer a few words in Spanish to his Iberian imports.

Although Monreal is cup-tied for the Champions League and cannot face Bayern Munich in the last 16, he is a player signed for the long term at the Emirates, offering an intriguing alternative to the more attack-minded Kieran Gibbs and the haphazard Andre Santos. At just 26 (he is 27 later in February), the Navarran is also approaching his best years and represents a shrewd signing by Wenger. The Frenchman has been accused of buying unsuitable, lightweight defenders in the past, but Gunners fans will be pleasantly surprised by Nacho Monreal.

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