A year ago a central-defensive pairing of Sebastien Squillaci and Elton Monteiro would have sent a shiver down the spine of most Arsenal supporters. At Upton Park on Friday night, however, the oft-criticised duo performed admirably, making several important blocks and tackles between them as the U21s held on for a commendable point in East London.
Squillaci’s Arsenal career will come to an end when his contract expires in June, but Monteiro, such has been his progression in the past 12 months, is likely to be granted an extended stay, which could incorporate his first loan spell next campaign. Considering the extremely difficult start he endured upon moving to North London, it is somewhat remarkable that the 19 year old has reached the point where he has been called up to the Arsenal first-team squad for a Champions League fixture and been capped at U19 level by Portugal, having previously represented Switzerland.
During his first full season at the club, in 2010/11, Monteiro looked hopelessly out of his depth at all levels, making mistakes galore as the U18s struggled for consistency, whilst also experiencing a harrowing debut at second-string level as a young Gunners side were annihilated 10-1 by Aston Villa. At this stage, any hopes of the centre-back carving out a long-term career at Emirates Stadium appeared to be non-existent, given the frequency with which he squandered possession, his penchant for costly errors which often led to goals conceded and his woeful sense of positioning.
Since then, however, Monteiro has quietly been working his way along the road to redemption, and has now established himself as a key figure in Steve Gatting’s U21 side, as well as in the NextGen Series this season, in which he turned in a highly-commendable performance against Inter Milan in the Last 16. Monteiro now appears far more confident on the ball, tracks his runners more adroitly and has also learned to position himself better when the opposition attack, all of which has seen his stock rise considerably this campaign.
He still remains very much a work in progress, and the tendency to commit costly errors is still there, but, in terms of his overall performances, Monteiro has matured so much from the slight 16 year old plucked from FC Sion almost four years ago. Arsene Wenger called him up to the senior squad for the Champions League group stage fixture with Olympiacos and, although it is still difficult to envisage the youngster succeeding at the club in the long term, he has to be commended for the upturn in his performances of late.