As Arsenal make significant strides towards asserting themselves as genuine title contenders and being viewed as a threat for the first time in some number of years, there are a handful of starters at the club who have raised their game to meet what was required of them to help the club to reach this transitional stage of moving from good to elite. Players such as Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Giroud and Bellerin have all made remarkable strides this season finding consistency and form all in one, helping to reward Arsenal with points deserving of their performances. One player who stands tall above these names ironically, is the shortest man at the club, Santiago Cazorla. Cazorla’s talent is remarkable and the last two seasons have also highlighted his tactical understanding as well as his immense technical skills and his ability to apply around various roles at the club, his transition into a deeper central role at the back end of last season coming into this season is what stands above all else and where the Spaniards evolution as a player really shows itself.
Having arrived at Arsenal being seen as a replacement for Cesc Fabregas in the eyes of the casual fan, Cazorla started off his first season fantastically having double digits in both goals and assists, most coming from the number ten role as attacking playmaker. In his second season, with the arrival of Mesut Ozil, Santiago failed to rediscover the same form while also being asked to play various positions, be it wide or deep centrally. Last season, we saw the reemergence of a new Santi, the quick footed regista, with a telling performance against Manchester City at the Etihad. With that performance that brought a goal and assist he sealed his place in the position. He regained a relatively familiar position centrally; however he was asked to fulfill a different role. Arsenal’s ability to control games dominate opponents and transition effectively from defense to attack now hinged on Cazorla’s ability to step up in that position, a task hurdle he easily jumped over.
Cazorla’s diminutive figure and attacking background led to multiple questions over him being not only overpowered in that deeper role when it came to midfield battles but also his defensive contribution in the area. The thought was that Cazorla would be free to run around to score assist and be free as a butterfly while Coquelin would be doing all the dirty work tackling, cursing, kicking players, and taking names. Santi not to be outdone however has displayed this season that defending goes beyond the stereotypical rhetoric spouted by British pundits and as even gone so far as to prove the leader of the pack wrong in Gary Neville who was particularly critical of the Spaniard’s ability to govern such an area. With statistics gathered from Whoscored.com, Cazorla so far has registered 2.1 tackles per game and 2.3 interceptions per game, and while not the best in the league it eclipses that of many players who are tasked with similar roles at top clubs as well as it ranks him among some of the league’s best defenders, something unexpected by many. In the end it outlines how Cazorla has married his superior technical and tactical side with discipline, creating an all new dynamic to this Arsenal team.
Cazorla’s performances from the position so far this season has him seen as irreplaceable by the manager in the position, even with worrying injury concerns. Mind you, if the concerns turn into a crisis we may see Cazorla shifted again which as Wenger stated in his pre-match press conference for the trip to Swansea and destroying two departments by moving the Spaniard. Wenger also highlighted that Arsenal control the ball better with Cazorla central, which is why he’ll be ideally identified as the team’s trigger. With his rate of chance creation, his improved defensive displays and all round technical play and tactical understanding, Santi pulling the strings deep could fire Arsenal to something special this season.