During the January transfer window, Arsenal strengthened their squad with the signing of full-back Nacho Monreal, a £8.3m signing from Malaga who will hook up with former team-mate Santi Cazorla. The consensus among Arsenal fans seems to be that with two left-backs already in André Santos and the injured Kieran Gibbs, the transfer of the Spain international looks like a panic buy.
It seems that the same fans that were expecting no business from their club are equally dissatisfied with the business that has been done. A Spain international with nine caps to his name, and named in the Spain squad for the upcoming match against Uruguay, Monreal comes with good pedigree and excellent reports from La Liga experts. But all of a sudden it seems as if fans were happy enough with the terrifyingly unstable defending of Santos.
When questioned about Santos’ future at the club, Wenger responded with “why not?” and claimed that the Brazilian works better in a competitive environment than when not under pressure, as “he is not a nervous player.” In fact, I think Santos will be used in a more advanced position. Actually possessing a left foot, and much better going forward than he is at the back, Santos in effect provides another dimension with the addition of Monreal, and will perhaps be better utilized as a left-sided midfielder late in matches – especially those that Arsenal are narrowly winning.
Whilst this may gloss over the glaring crack at the heart of midfield, a full-back approaching the prime of his career will help to shore up a defence that, despite Gibbs’ recent good form, often concedes goals down the left hand side. The much-maligned defensive capabilities of Lukas Podolski can be negotiated in some games by deploying any of Gibbs, Monreal and Santos down the left. Let us not forget that Gibbs started his Arsenal career as a left midfielder.
Wenger also claimed that he went in for another player on deadline day, but that a deal could not be done because the club did not want to sell. That club was, apparently, Toulouse, and the player Étienne Capoue. A solid defensive midfielder and only 24, the addition of Capoue would, I have no doubt, have changed the complexion of the deal in the eyes of Arsenal fans. But having already sold Sissoko to Newcastle during this window, Toulouse decided not the let Capoue go. I think that Wenger should be praised for pursuing Monreal anyway, mindful of the possibility that his transfer policy may look less than convincing.
Whilst Arsenal did not do world-class business during January (I think that accolade should probably go to Newcastle), the purchase of Monreal does not represent bad business. It changes the make-up of the squad and provides more options. The common complaint that this overloads the left-back position is erroneous – it is an ambitious move to buy in a player in position where there are already two incumbents, because this proposes improvement.
The notion that Arsenal already had two perfectly good left-backs would be a hypocritical statement from fans who feel the club are going backwards. There can never be too much competition for places at a competitive football club, and after all isn’t that what they are complaining Arsenal is not?