Just from the title, I know pretty much every Arsenal fan is instantly thinking “ridiculous”. So, I would like to clear from the off I am fully aware Santi Cazorla is a world class player and without him last season we probably wouldn’t have achieved top four.
That being said, there are two sides of Cazorla that I see:
1) Arsenal in possession – Cazorla is the typical classy Spanish footballer. Fluid passing and movement with the ability to cut open a defence like butter. His dribbling and close ball control is almost incomparable, and has that low centre of gravity which makes him harder to knock off the ball than he should be.
2) Arsenal not in possession – Cazorla offers almost nothing in terms of retrieving the ball or pressing from the front. You don’t expect that from a Spain international. In the Premier League there is an intensity, especially in the central areas, which makes defensive work a necessity. Even for the creative midfielders. Although few agree with it, Mourinho had a similar problem with Mata, so dropped him entirely.
Since the loss away against London rivals Tottenham on March 3rd, Arsenal have moved Cazorla from the central attacking midfield position to the left wing. Why? Around the time of the Blackburn and Bayern Munich losses for Arsenal in February, Steve Bould took over a much larger part of the defensive training for the 1st team, as he was promised when he accepted the job as assistant manager. Within 3 fixtures of that take-over, Cazorla’s position had been changed. Coincidence? Not that it is purely down to the him being moved to the left wing, but Arsenal’s defending as a whole got better. They became more a team when defending and cut out the individual errors, and as a results they started picking up more points.
That gets us to the heart of the article.
Santi Cazorla is now playing on the left of a very talented midfield, and has been for 8 months (6 being footballing months). Disregarding how influential a player Cazorla was from August 2012 til until March 3rd 2013, do you think he has a future at Arsenal as a left winger?
At the end of a disappointing transfer window for the Arsenal fans, Arsene Wenger turned it around on a tense deadline day by splashing the cash on Real Madrid superstar Mesut Ozil to play in the position Cazorla once occupied, thus shutting the door on Cazorla’s centre attacking midfield days at Arsenal.
So then, judging from Cazorla’s performances on the left wing, is he the best player for Arsenal’s system?
As for contributing to goals, Cazorla has 1 goal and 1 assist in all competitions this season (14 appearances). Although stats can deceive, and he’s probably doing more for the all round play, it should be noted 2 goal contributions coming up to Christmas, for a 1st team regular, in an attacking position, in a team sitting comfortably at the top of the league, is not good enough. Of the 9 Premier League appearances he’s made this season Cazorla has only also completed 13 dribbles, which as it’s under 1.5 per game suggests he isn’t committing defenders either. He has also been dribbled past 21 times in 9 games which gives an average of 2.3 dribbles past per game. Easily Arsenal’s highest, highlighting once again why he isn’t in a central position.
This leaves passing; as his best asset, this is ultimately the reason he’s in the team. Key passes per game Cazorla has made 1.6, quite disappointing considering it’s 27th in the Premier League. Last season he had an average 2.5. However, he is completing 40.3 passes on average per game, a pass accuracy of 84%. Quite high for a wide attacker in the Premier League.
Is that enough?
Whether he’s bringing players into the game, improves the tempo of the play, or offers the creativity to help Arsenal in the tighter situations; I can’t help but think Rosicky offers all them things, as well as a hard working attitude. Between the two, Cazorla is the more talented, however Rosicky seems to bring more to the team, and seeing how his contract ends in the summer and hasn’t been offered a new one as of yet, I can’t help but think Wenger isn’t looking for a playmaker on the wing anymore.
Over the last few months, Arsenal have been linked heavily with wingers. Although teams rarely sign the players they’re linked with, it does give a good indication into the type of player they’re looking for, as usually the rumours come from leaks from insiders of the club or where scouts have been spotted. The main three wingers Arsenal have been linked with since August have been Draxler, El Shaarawy and Cuadrado. For people who haven’t seen much of these players, they seem to have a relatively similar style of play; they all like to cut in from the wing and play as more of an inside forward than a winger/playmaker. They are all good dribblers, score a good amount of goals, and are capable of passing the ball when needed.
So could this the next move for the Arsenal system?
Personally, I feel this is the next evolution in Wenger’s system. Despite some reluctance to accept it, since Bould has taken charge of the defending, Arsenal have been statistically the best defensive team in the league. In possession, Arsenal have and always will be (under Wenger) comfortable passing the ball about. So this leaves the attacking. In the big games this season, Arsenal have 8 goals in 7 games against what I consider to be similar opposition. These are Dortmund twice, Man United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham and Napoli. That is not enough. In the tighter games, especially away from home, Arsenal have had to dig deep to scrap the low scoring wins. This is where the left wing position comes into it. In those big games, I don’t think Arsenal have enough firepower they need currently. Players like Ozil, Ramsey, etc. will thrive with the extra runners in behind the defence, it’ll give them a different option to pass to which should add goals to the Arsenal team.
Cazorla is a great player who we are privileged to have. Whether he is right for the system and is he having enough of an influence, I personally don’t think so, but I would love to see your views in the comments or on twitter (see bio). My choice would be Draxler out of the three, whether it’s possible is another story.
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