Transfer rumours are usually a waste of time but occasionally they come true. And when stories about the arrival of a world class player turn to reality it’s difficult to contain the excitement. When Arsenal officially confirmed the arrival of Santi Cazorla I felt a big hole in the squad had been plugged. That hole was responsible for draining much of the confidence and hope concerning Arsenal’s competitiveness in the forthcoming season so the Gunners should now be able to sustain a higher degree of positivity even if Van Persie departs.
While any improvement or lingering weaknesses on the defensive front will become apparent only after a few games of the 12-13 season, the arrival of the Spaniard, often cited as the best player in La Liga who doesn’t play for Barca or Real, will certainly improve the balance and creative quotient of the squad.
Arsene started 2011-12 with two quick wingers but deployed the services of a more technically adept midfielder on the flank in the latter half of the season. Benayoun did a job for the Gunners in that role but Cazorla should be an obvious upgrade over the Chelsea man. The Spaniard has better technique and superior game-intelligence.
The former Villareal man’s technique allows him to receive and hold the ball under pressure, link play in tight spaces, execute all kinds of perfectly weighted passes, turn or dribble past opponents, and resist physical challenges while providing a two-footed threat with a powerful shot on goal.
His football instincts allow him to see passes quicker than most players be it a defence splitting through-ball or a raking long pass to spread the play. Furthermore, Cazorla doesn’t need too long to pick a pass and can thus be vital against deep-lying defences. His awareness and utilization of space should also provide better angles to his teammates on the ball, particularly the midfielders and defenders when they’re playing out from the back. . Lastly, but not the least, the Spaniard will also bring exceptional decision making skills to the side.
It’s easy to visualize Cazorla playing exquisite one-two’s with Van Persie (hopefully he’ll stay) in and around the box, or sliding an inch perfect ball for Theo/Gervinho/AOC, or dropping deep to bring the ball out when the team is under pressure. One can also see him scuttling between the lines to create consistent positional chaos amongst opposition ranks.
Last season Arsenal’s ability to come from behind was sensational but it only partly obscured the fact that the Gunners were conceding the lead time and again. Many teams found it easy to pressurize Wenger’s side early on which forced individual mistakes and allowed goals. As described above, the technical and instinctive qualities of Arsenal’s latest acquisition should help the Gunners in the face of similar pressure in 2012-13. Those who’ve followed this blog closely over the last couple of season’s will probably recall discussions about Arsenal’s enhanced defensive abilities when they’re able to beat the initial press and push the opponents back in their own half. In that regard Cazorla could indirectly, through his technical and positional play, improve the overall defensive abilities of the unit as a whole.
Some people see the Spaniard as a replacement for Fabregas just as some had thought of Arteta as the creative player signed to fill the void left by the departure of Cesc. While there is no doubt Cazorla will provide an incisive creative threat, it seems to me he’s more of a replacement for Nasri than the Barcelona man. The 27 year old also seems to be of the same ilk as players like Hazard and Kagawa that rivals have signed this summer. Indeed, some might say the Arsenal man brings greater experience and technical quality than the Chelsea or United acquisitions. Of course, there are subtle differences in their styles of play and we’ll have to wait to see how they adapt and deliver before making more meaningful comparisons.
There is no doubt Cazorla can play any one of the ‘3’ roles in Arsenal’s so-called 4-2-3-1 and if really needed he could also slot into one of the two deeper midfield positions. This should give Wenger a great deal of flexibility in selecting his sides based on the quality of the opposition and injury situations that occur during the course of the season.
For instance, Santi could start behind the striker against smaller teams at home with two genuinely quick wide players on either side to provide required incision. Against teams like City and United and in tricky away games he could move to one of the flanks so that Arsene can field a stronger midfield with greater technical quality. This should also provide the manager the opportunity to rest key players in different positions, and hopefully he’ll take it.
I haven’t used any stats in this article as many bloggers have already provided most of the numbers. You can also find stats on Espn Soccernet, WhoScored, and other sites. While looking at the stats, especially in a comparative sense, just make sure you don’t get misled by the definitions on certain sites. For instance, to the best of my knowledge, WhoScored does not differentiate between starts and sub appearances in the various ‘per game’ stats that they provide. This tends to punish players who don’t regularly complete 90 minutes. Normalizing the numbers on a min/stat basis should provide a fairer comparison.
At Arsenal, Cazorla should match or better his already impressive creative numbers like Key Passes, Through-balls, and Assists. Another popular stat is that he scored 8 of his 9 goals from outside the box. Many Gooners will hope for more of the same but Arsene will probably want him to be more picky as a ratio of a goal every 10 shots or so is not very healthy at this level. I have a feeling Wenger will ask for more assists and pre-assists from his latest signing than goals from outside the box. Of course, an additional and genuine threat from set-pieces is always welcome.
In a stronger team, AW will also want to see a reduction in the number of times he loses the ball. It will be interesting to see if he can do better from the word go or if he improves over time as he adapts to the physicality of the League. Cazorla’s marginally higher propensity to lose the ball can be a risk if he plays in the midfield three. Ramsey had similar problems last season but the Welshman made up for it, at least partially, with a great engine. The Spaniard will probably not have the same ability to motor up and down the pitch at Premier League intensity week in, week out. Again, tactically flexible use of the player should counter this to a large extent.
Unlike many Arsenal signings, YouTube also has a number of videos of the player including compilations from individual games. I particularly recommend this video by @CWDComps
and this compilation of his performance for Villareal against Real Sociedad.
The latter is a 10+ minute video and provides a good idea of the strengths and weaknesses of the player.
Wenger and everyone else involved in the deal deserve kudos for a very shrewd acquisition. There are no guarantees in football but the odds of Cazorla turning out to be a big player for Arsenal are pretty good. Santiago Cazorla González, welcome to the Arsenal and thanks for the renewed optimism that you brought along! Exciting times ahead.Follow @goonerdesi