Why Santi Cazorla has been Arsenal’s best signing in recent years
“Oh, Santi Cazorla! Oh, Santi Cazorla!”
Whether it is a home game or an away game, not a match day goes by without the Arsenal faithful chanting the Spaniard’s name from the terraces before spilling out on to the streets and continuing to worship him in a manner reserved for the best of the best.
Simply put, he has been a terrific signing by Arsene Wenger. After having secured deals for Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud in the summer, Wenger bolstered the attack with the magical Spanish midfielder even before the other teams had a whiff of an opportunity. Arsenal had timed it just right. La Liga side Malaga was in a financial crisis and was in desperate need of money. Having lost out on Juan Mata last season in an almost similar deal with Valencia, Arsenal promptly stepped in, took advantage of the situation and snapped him up for a cut-price of less than £15M – which was less than what Malaga had paid for him when they bought him from Villarreal a season before! Before signing Cazorla, Wenger even cheekily remarked in a press conference, “Santi Cazorla? I don’t know this guy!”
“He is a versatile, attacking midfield player who can play comfortably on either side of the pitch or centrally. He has good pace, is technically gifted and will be a huge asset to Arsenal Football Club. We are delighted that he is joining us.” – Wenger in August, 2012.
Cazorla stands at just 5 feet and 6 inches. But it was obvious from the start that everybody in the squad looked up to him on the pitch. His footwork and his passing are unparalleled in the squad and he is easily one of the most technically gifted players in the Premier League today. The ones who would probably come close in comparison with his close quarter dribbling and eye for passing are his compatriots Mata and David Silva. It was no wonder then that these three players have been compared throughout the season to see who has made the biggest impact.
The Premier League fans got to see him when the season got underway and his class was laid bare for all to see. He picked up the Man of the Match award on his Arsenal debut against Sunderland in a 0-0 draw. Although it ended goalless, Cazorla had created umpteen chances for his team mates with some delicious movement, trickery and passing. The adulation was complete as he assisted Podolski and scored the second at Anfield as Arsenal got their first win of the season. A new hero was born, and he played the Arsenal way.
Since then, he has received 9 Man of the Match awards. Originally a player who could play either as the attacking midfielder or as a winger on both flanks, he seamlessly fit into the system as the central attacking midfielder the London club has craved since Cesc Fabregas’ exit. He was the focal point of the team as all the attacks were routed through him. He forged a superb understanding with Kieran Gibbs and Podolski on the left as they mesmerized fans with near-telepathic one touch passing and movement. He was able to play off Giroud and their combined movement flummoxed back lines and had Giroud been a little more clinical with his finishing, we’d have seen more goals and assists (also makes one wonder how he could have played alongside Robin van Persie).
“When Cazorla plays he makes everyone around him play better.” - Wenger
What makes Cazorla stand out is the fact that he is an ambidextrous player! He can cross and shoot well with both feet. Originally right footed, even Wenger was prompted to say that when one watches him play, they just don’t know. Having managed many gifted players, even he said he could only recollect Glenn Hoddle as being one of the best two-footed players. “I don’t remember anyone else I have worked with who was two-footed as much as those two (Hoddle and Cazorla).” This came to the forefront when Cazorla scored from outside the box with a sublime left footed volley that beat goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen at West Ham in a 1-3 win.
Cazorla pulled the strings in midfield alongside his best mate Mikel Arteta. Their passing was pleasing to the eye and their ability to get each other out of trouble and initiate attacks was impeccable. It wasn’t long before opponents caught on and stifled them in the midfield. Arsenal suffered a slump in these games, especially against the big teams in the top four. And it wasn’t until Jack Wilshere’s return that Cazorla got a little more freedom on the pitch as teams had two world class midfielders to contend with.
Not since Fabregas’ finest season in an Arsenal shirt in 2009/10 has a midfielder scored more than 10 goals in a season (Cesc scored 15 in the League and 19 overall). Cazorla has already scored 12 goals in the Premier League – the highest by any Arsenal player this season (Theo Walcott is second with 11). This included a hat-trick against Reading at the Madejski Stadium, making him the third Spaniard to get a hat-trick in the Premier League. What’s more, he has also accumulated 11 assists. That means he has been involved in 23 goals this season – his best ever season in his career in both Spain and England. And we still have 9 more games to go.
Adding his exceptional ball holding skills, delightful through balls, and cutting in from the flank to his repertoire, Santi Cazorla is the complete midfield package. He has created 74 chances in the League so far, averaging 1 through ball per game. Combined with a pass success percentage of 88%, he is right up there amongst the best midfielders in Europe this season. He is pretty much assured of an automatic pick for the team of the season in the Premier League because of his versatility.
Not many players live up to the hype when they come to the Premier League. Santi Cazorla is not one of them. A World and European champion is a nice thing to have in any team as they are players used to winning things. It is certain to rub off on the rest of the squad sooner rather than later. His quality was obvious before he arrived. Known to be a very friendly and genuinely nice guy, both on and off the pitch, he is a delight in the dressing room. And at Arsenal, he has found the perfect platform to express himself in the best way possible – by having fun on the football pitch at the expense of his opponents, always playing with a happy smile on his face.
Stats from squawka.com and whoscored.com