Nacho Monreal is an unfashionable choice for Player of the Year. A defender who isn't universally regarded in the way that, say, Philip Lahm is, and doesn't get feted treatment of the media because of his vocal chords, like John Terry, or even worse, Vincent Kompany, Monreal is an unassuming, consistent, solid performer, and has been since he joined Arsenal in January 2013. But in a week where the football world has been appreciating the merits of Dani Alves, we must do the same for Nacho Monreal, who was Arsenal's most consistently good performer this season, from the beginning of the season until the end.
Monreal started the season as second-choice left back to Kieran Gibbs, and then was pressed into service at centre back as Laurent Koscielny succumbed to his long-term Achilles problem, and Calum Chambers was needed at right back. Monreal initially struggled, as he had never played centre back before this season, but his game grew better and better, with the only real mistake coming when he was out-jumped by Bafétimbi Gomis in November. Following Koscielny's return, Monreal returned to left-back, and with his physical attributes sharpened by two months at centre-back, he soon ousted Kieran Gibbs and became first choice.
Monreal has always been excellent on the ball, and an excellent attacking left back. He's less attacking than Gibbs, but chooses his runs far better, creating variation in how he supports his winger. His crossing is excellent, and he also brings the ability to cross the ball in the air or cut it back. With an improved defensive game, competing better aerially and standing wingers up one v one, it became quickly apparent that Monreal was the best choice to start at left-back. Furthermore, Monreal enabled Arsenal to play Héctor Bellerín on the right; his compatriot is a far more attacking full back, and Monreal brought balance.
The statistics back this up. Of all players to play at least 1000 minutes, Monreal made the second most tackles per game, third most interceptions, third most clearances, and won the fourth most aerial duels (after Giroud and the two centre backs).
Monreal also produced in the biggest games. It was his supporting run, the first that he made, that won the penalty that Santi Cazorla converted to go 1-0 up at the Etihad, and he scored Arsenal's first at Old Trafford in the FA Cup quarter-final, after a fine passing move that he started by combining well with Mesut Özil. Monreal was one of Arsenal's actually good players during the debacle at White Hart Lane, and his run created the second goal in the second leg against Monaco. And in the FA Cup final, he was influential in two goals: it was his cross that Alexis headed down for Theo Walcott's volley, and his run took away Alan Hutton, giving Alexis the space to shoot for the second Arsenal goal. That Arsène Wenger lifted the trophy with Monreal was a fitting conclusion to a season where Monreal, more than Wenger's often-trusted stalwarts such as Mikel Arteta or Per Mertesacker, was the most consistent and trustworthy player on the field.