You knew this one was coming…
I’ve gone a couple of ways round with this post. There is the straight retelling of Santi Cazorla’s Arsenal career; a brilliant first season, slightly less brilliant second season (albeit with that stunning free kick to launch the Rockyesque comeback at Wembley) and then the third; a season which which began with questions over the little magician’s value to this Arsenal. Questions which have begun to be answered, emphatically, over the last month- particularly last weekend.
And then there’s the slightly hyperbolic, lyrical, approach to this.
I feel like I could write poetry about Santi’s range of passing and the way he can play a disguised pass before you’ve even realised it was on. I doubt it would quite do him justice!
One might be particularly taken with the way he is able to change direction so quickly and easily that he sends opponents spinning out into the stratosphere; clearly, being the smallest player in the Premier League has some benefits.
One might even think of Cazorla’s finishing. Very rarely does Santi do mundane, even his penalties are stuck away with elan.
But I think the easiest way into this article, is to ask this question: how does watching Santi Cazorla play football make you feel?
After all, it isn’t always about stats.
For me, watching Santi in action, when he’s smiling his way through yet another midfield masterclass, is the undisputed highlight of watching this Arsenal side.
Yeah, I know that we have another import from La Liga currently tearing his way through opposition defences. It goes without saying that Alexis is a wonderful player.
However, there’s something about Cazorla’s style which, for me, manages to be both casual and urgent.
There’s an intelligence to his play and it often feels as if Santi is one of those players who is three or four steps ahead of everybody else, hence those wonderful reverse passes that Olivier Giroud never seems quite able to put away.
Basically, I think Cazorla plays football exactly how I would love to to play- if only I had the wit, the two footedness,* the bravery, the skill, and the imagination or the surety of touch.
I remember one late summer game in Santi’s first season when he brought a cross field pass down from the heavens with one, perfectly cushioned, touch. There was a collective “Oooh!” and then a ripple of applause from an appreciative home crowd.
You want another example of his excellent technique?
How about that howitzer of a goal he scored at West Ham in his first season?
Or that volley against Liverpool?
Speaking of which, a friend of mine reckons Cazorla never turns up in big games. Whilst I’d say it’s fair to say he’d never quite produced a performance like last Sunday’s against City, he has goals at Anfield, Old Trafford, and Eastlands; he’s also got a couple against the mob from up the road.
I’m not sure that counts as “not turning up”.
Point is, if we bemoan Arsene’s ability to strengthen at the back, one thing we can applaud him for is the range of quality attacking players to the club. Here is yet another one.
I still remember Arsène signing him and commenting that Cazorla could play anywhere across midfield.
Number 10? Of course. On the wing? Definitely? Central midfield? Are you sure? And yet, as autumn turned to winter and injuries decimated our squad, it is precisely there, that the smile has been restored to Santi’s face.
He has been playing excellent football for a few weeks now. We’d seen it in glimpses this season, which began with a wonderful performance to drag Arsenal into the group stages of the Champions League as we flirted dangerously with elimination, but not so much as we’re used to.
However, Santi’s utterly heroic performance at the weekend- I think I may have typed those two words already this week, I make no apology for repeating myself- has returned him to the spotlight he deserves.
I think that his performance at Eastlands summed up everything great about him. The composure in possession, the positional intelligence, the passing, the ability to find his way out of a tough spot, the finishing and, especially, the dancing.
Ok, so maybe not that.
What really came through last Sunday was that Santi, like all of his midfield colleagues that day, was prepared to run himself to a standstill for the team: and then go again.
As Arsene said, he was “unstoppable”. It’s great to have him back, the doubters silenced.
Taking you back to the summer of 2013, Cesc Fabregas previewed Cazorla’s anticipated link up with Mesut Özil as something that would be “spectacular”. A series of injuries last season, to both players, put paid to the two men producing many spectacles, but I think we saw enough to be excited about the prospect of them really developing an understanding.
I certainly wouldn’t like to play piggy in the middle with them.
That said, with four of the five midfield spots as close to locked down as makes no difference, it’s very difficult to see where Ozil fits into this puzzle- would you put him out wide instead of the Ox? I’m not sure I would.
That the £42m man finds himself, for the moment, on the outside looking in is, I think a real tribute to the man most would have happily replaced without even thinking about it. But don’t take my word for, here’s a quote from Arsène,
“In the middle of the park, he gets you out of situations where you are under pressure. He is always technically perfect and in our recent games he has certainly been in the best form of his career.”
Long may it continue, or to put it another way, ¡Viva el “Cazorlazo en la Premier”!
*Although I am working on my left foot, I’m not sure that, at the age of 37, it’s ever going to improve that much!