Santi Cazorla has featured in all but one game in the Premier League for Arsenal this season, scoring 6 goals and assisting 7 of them. Consistency has been in his element this season and it’s without doubt that despite Arsene Wenger having plenty of options for the number 10 role, Cozorla is the first name in pecking order.
Arsene Wenger has flooded his ranks with nimble, creative influences that are pleasing on the eye and comfortable in possession. It could be argued that he has forgotten to address other key areas while indulging in an elaborate accumulation of forward-thinking talent, but that is a debate for another time and place.
Goals win games, but playmakers often carve open the opportunities and are worth as much as any 20-goal-a-season frontman. Arsenal have an embarrassment of riches in that department – so much so that fitting them all into the side on any given day would be a thankless task if injury struggles were not so prevalent at Emirates Stadium.
Aaron Ramsey is back on the treatment table in north London, Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott have recently clambered off it, while Jack Wilshere is in danger of becoming stuck to it if he spends any more time on the physiotherapy furniture.
There has, however, been one constant for the Gunners in the 2014/15 campaign – much to their relief.
Santi Cazorla has risen to the fore and used his stocky frame to gently nudge colleagues out of his path en route to nailing down a post that he would likely consider to be his favourite and one that best makes use of the attributes he brings to the side.
A two-time European Championship winner with Spain, there has never been any doubting the 30-year-old’s ability; it has just been difficult to get him performing at the full peak of his powers in Premier League competition on a regular basis.
His debut campaign back in 2012/13 was impressive, but those standards dipped 12 months on and have only recently been rediscovered. The absence of rivals to the pivotal No. 10 role at Arsenal this season has worked in his favour, with the path cleared to become a key cog in an Emirates machine that Premier League betting markets are now heavily fancying to end the season inside the top four and back among the Champions League elite.
Cazorla will be expected to play a leading role in said pursuit, with it likely that Wenger will resist any urge to tinker with his plans – even with the likes of Walcott and World Cup winner Ozil back at his disposal. Arsenal need to play to their strengths, and that means allowing those with the ability to pick the tightest of locks to get on the ball and make things happen.
You do not need to look very far or very hard to discover that Cazorla is the man with the skeleton key.
Alexis Sanchez may have offered more to the collective cause and been operating in a world of his own since arriving in English football, but he has set up camp in a wider role and will continue to cause damage in a position which offers him the freedom to cut inside and work between the lines.
Centrally, Cazorla is the man making Arsenal tick. He has already delivered six Premier League assists this season and as many goals, while creating nine ‘big chances’ for appreciative teammates. To put those numbers into perspective, he found the target just four times in 2013/14, in 31 outings, and conjured up eight for those around him – a figure he has hit this term when taking Champions League competition into account.
It is, however, when his statistics are broken down game-by-game that his value over others becomes clear – as that takes away the fact that he has played considerably more minutes in total than other members of the squad capable of filling a similar role.
Cazorla attempts more assists every time he takes to the field (2.38) than Ozil, Walcott, Ramsey et al, as well as averaging more accurate passes (51.63), looking forward with greater regularity (17.75) and playing more through balls (0.88). He also averages more touches (81.38) than any other player – some 12 more than Sanchez – and puts in more crosses (5.71).
Still not buying it? Need more convincing? Okay.
How about domination over set-pieces, with more attempted assists made from dead-ball situations (0.79 per game) and more corners delivered (3.71) than anyone else in the red half of north London.
His consistency is also highlighted in the final third of the field, as he sits second – behind three different players – when it comes to passes in a key area (27.58), entries into the danger zone (7.92) and into the penalty area (3.83).
It is also worth noting that Cazorla was acquired for a reported £16.5 million fee – a saving of £26m on the record-breaking deal put in place for Ozil and £18.5m on last summer’s marquee purchase of Sanchez from Barcelona.
All in all, if Arsenal are to pull up another pew at European football’s top table, keeping their Spanish schemer at the heart of those plans would be advisable.