Before going into a brutal run of games, Arsenal welcomed Crystal Palace to the Emirates for the first time. While this game was against a relatively easy opponent, the three points were crucial for the Gunners. While Palace were tough to break down, Arsenal eventually did get the breakthrough and won 2-0. This moved Arsenal back to the top of the table and extended their unbeaten run to 10 games in all competitions.
While Alex Oxlade Chamberlain is taking home most of the plaudits with his two goals from his new central position, Santi Cazorla also put in a very strong performance in Oxlade Chamberlain’s normal position, right wing. After a slow first few months of the season, Cazorla is starting to come into the form that won him Arsenal Player of the Season in 2012/2013.
Cazorla was repeatedly fed the ball and allowed to make his impact on the game taking 111 touches, one of four Arsenal players with over 100 touches. Cazorla was precise in his passing, completing 90% of his passes along with 82% of his final third passes. Cazorla made 13 final third entries and created the only clear cut chance for Arsenal. That clear cut chance ended up being the games’ opening goal. With Cazorla out on the wing, Cazorla has more defensive responsibilities. With those responsibilities, Cazorla attempted more ground duels than any other Arsenal player, 13, and won six of them.
While Cazorla played in the hole when he initially came to England, Arsene Wenger has been mainly deploying the Spaniard out on the left in 2013. Against Palace, Wenger opted for both Cazorla and Podolski meaning that he had to put Cazorla on the right. While Cazorla lined up on the right, he constantly cut inside and swapped with Ozil to open up space and get himself into better positions. When on the ball, Cazorla hovered in the final third probing and waiting for the space to open up. When that space opened up, Cazorla was there to either use that space for himself or find the player running into that space and pick him out with a killer pass.
Palace made themselves difficult to break down and got 10 men behind the ball at all times. After a frustrating first half, Arsenal kept trying to wear Palace down. In the 47th minute, Cazorla picked up the ball from Mikel Arteta and exchanged a quick one two with Mesut Ozil. Cazorla then passed to fullback Bacary Sagna. That pass to Sagna drew the Palace winger, Jason Puncheon, over to Sagna creating some space for Cazorla. Sagna then gave the ball back to Cazorla in that space giving him time on the ball to do what he does. Cazorla picked the ball up and drove at the Palace defence which drew all the attention to himself and dragged the Palace defence slightly to the right. While he drove at them, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain decided to make a run from deep in midfield. Chamberlain was not picked up by his marker, former Arsenal striker Maroaune Chamakh. With the Palace defence paying their attention to Cazorla, a big space opened up around the edge of the penalty area. Oxlade Chamberlain decided to make his run into that space. While Cazorla was driving at the defence he kept his head up to spot a possible run. Cazorla spotted the run of Oxlade Chamberlain and played the ball through to him. The ball was right on the money allowing the Ox to take a touch to settle himself and chip it into the back of the net to give the Gunners the 1-0 lead. Against a team like Palace that will park the bus, the first goal in so important and Cazorla’s killer pass created that first goal that allowed Arsenal to go on and win the game.
While Alex Oxlade Chamberlain took many of the plaudits from this game, Santi Cazorla certainly deserves credit as well for putting in a strong performance. Cazorla was vital in Arsenal getting those three points before the tough run of fixtures and, if he can keep his performance levels up, he could be key in their push for the Barclays Premier League title.