Santi Cazorla missed the majority of last season due to a series knee ligament injury. He picked up the damage in a draw against Norwich on November 29th 2015 and despite hoping to make a return in March, he didn’t return to first team training until April and made just one more bow before the season came to a close.
Wenger’s midfield clearly missed the Spaniard and the balance he brought to the side. Alongside Francis Coquelin, he developed a deep partnership in the Arsenal side and was instrumental to almost everything positive that came from Wenger’s team. He was forced to watch on the sidelines as Arsenal’s early title chase dwindled and their neighbours, Tottenham, soured up the Premier League table. He finally made his return on 15th May in Arsenal’s 4-0 victory against relegated Aston Villa but had to wait until the start of the 2016-17 season for his next game.
This season, Cazorla has already demonstrated why he was missed by Arsenal. The midfielder notched up two assists in the opening game against Liverpool when he came on as a substitute and although his side suffered defeat, he was central to all that was good. He added a goal against Watford too and recorded his first full 90 minutes since picking up the injury. The Spaniard has quick feet, great dribbling skills and a terrific passing range. He controls the midfield and rarely gives away possession and as a result, Cazorla’s ball retention takes pressure off the Arsenal defence.
The balance Cazorla brings to the team is easy to see and they automatically look more threatening with him in the side. Like David Silva at Manchester City, Cazorla is the player to get things ticking for Arsenal and he showed this before he picked up the injury in November. Statistically, he was the best passer in the Premier League in the league’s opening months and it’s no surprise given the amount of chances he creates for his side. He was the first player to reach over 1000 passes before the end of November and maintained a 90% pass completion rate. His stats are impressive and 69.5% of those passes were completed in the opposition half which shows his intent to push forward.
It’s this attacking intent which is perhaps the most valuable trait in his game. Whilst Cazorla can play anywhere across the field, it’s in the final third where he causes the most damage. Like Iniesta, he appears to have a mountain of time on his hands when on the ball and his composure allows him the time to pick out some devastating passes. During the Norwich match where he picked up his injury, he still managed to record 74 passes in the 1-1 draw, an incredibly high figure for one game.
Statistically, not even international teammate Cesc Fabregas came close to his passing rate and succession percentage but it’s not the stats which make Cazorla such an exciting player. As the deep midfielder, it’s up to the Spaniard to build Arsenal’s attack from the back. There’s few other players in the Gunners squad with the ability to carry the team forward, maintaining possession and threatening dangerous spaces in the attacking third. Cazorla is the link to this for Arsene Wenger’s side and when on the pitch, Arsenal look like a different team completely.
The team is packed with inexperience and youth and with Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil fulfilling a more dynamic role in front, Cazorla allows the Arsenal attacking midfielders to push forward with confidence as the Spaniard provides organisation. He links up well with Coquelin and together, the two give much more solidity and experience to the side. There’s few deep midfielders in the Premier League who record as many assists or chances created as Cazorla and though he is positionally defensive-minded, his on-the-ball play is very attacking. He plays with flair and creativity but offers something different to Arsenal’s familiar free-flowing passing play. Cazorla can deliver delightful through-balls over the top or through the centre of the defence and there’s very few who can do it with the same level of accuracy and consistency.
Already in Arsenal’s opening three fixtures this season, he’s been the bright spark. If the Gunners hope to secure a European spot this season, they need him to remain fit. They could also do with sorting out their defence…