Tag Archives: Cazorla


Santi Cazorla: no ordinary second fiddle

During Saturday’s match against Crystal Palace, there was a moment where the ball had squirted loose in midfield and two players from opposite teams ran full speed to collect. Cazorla, the Arsenal man, beat the Crystal Palace midfielder to the ball by mere inches and at the speed he was running I expected him to take a heavy touch and kick the ball to an opponent. But the ball seemed to stick to him like velcro as he effortlessly switched from left to right foot, skipped by the Palace man, and started Arsenal’s attack. That moment of skill didn’t make any highlight reels and for many who watched the game might have been lost among the more stellar moments of the game, but for me, it epitomized the play of Cazorla, a player who somehow quietly does the brilliant work in the background while others take the glory.

Well, maybe he’s not so quiet but there is no doubt that he’s playing something of a background role to the star players like Özil and Sanchez.

Cazorla is a player who would walk right into a starring role on almost any team in Europe. And yet, at Arsenal, he’s playing behind Özil in the creative role, behind Ramsey in the shuttling role, behind Arteta in the penalty-taker role, and behind Sanchez in the attacking role. But such is his gift that Cazorla still manages to be Arsenal’s third leading scorer with 7 goals, second leading playmaker with 6 assists on 2.3 key passes per game, and the Gunners’ third best dribbler with 2.4 dribbles per game. He does all that while being Arsenal’s leading passer, best crosser, and the player who takes all of the Arsenal corners and set plays.

With talent like that, Cazorla should be the star player at Arsenal. But instead of being a solo artist himself, he is happy playing technically perfect football with leads like Özil and Sanchez. That’s why Santi Cazorla has to be the most talented second fiddle in Europe.

Starting with the 2-0 win over Borussia Dortmund, where both Arsenal goals were created by Cazorla, the Spaniard has managed to score or assist 15 goals in 17 games. It is a rich vein of form unmatched by any other Arsenal player and the main reason why he has won player of the month awards for two months running.

There have been some stinker’s in that run. The 2-0 loss to Southampton and the 2-1 loss to Spurs were probably his worst matches of the season. But in Cazorla’s defense, in the Southampton match, he was played in front of a central midfield pairing of Chambers and Coquelin, who made their first appearance together in that game and their inexperience showed as they struggled to get the ball out of defense. And against Tottenham, Cazorla was marked out of the game as Spurs forced out of shape Ramsey and the inexperienced Coquelin to beat them.

And the stinkers have been balanced out by astonishing matches. Against the reigning Premier League champions (you, know, Manchester City) Cazorla scored a goal and created the second goal as Arsenal cruised to a 2-0 win. Arsenal’s first away win against a top four rival in what seems like a decade. According to the WhoScored.com metric, Cazorla was flawless in that match, getting a perfect 10. He followed that performance up with a two-assist, one-goal performance in Arsenal’s 5-0 win over the hapless Aston Villa.

In many ways that Man City match epitomized Cazorla’s best qualities. Ten times in that match he picked the ball up and dribbled past City’s expensively assembled defensive midfielders. He doesn’t always have to dribble like that and in reality you don’t want to have to rely on a player dribbling out of defense to start the attack. But in that match, the way that City had Arsenal penned into their own half, his ability to hold on to the ball and beat the opposition time and again gave the Arsenal defense valuable time to catch their breath while also causing the City defense panic.

Watching the Man City midfielders fall all over themselves to try to get the ball off of him time and again was like watching a pro playing against little kids. Except in reverse: Cazorla is the smallest player on the pitch and the Man City defensive midfielders are these hulking figures trying in vain to tackle the ball away.

But it’s that ability to turn defense into attack that is Cazorla’s greatest attribute. When he gets the ball in midfield there is no hesitation, he already knows where his markers are, he knows where his teammates are, and he often just side-steps a defender with a simple one-two touch and then bombs a long ball up to Alexis. Or plays a perfectly weighted through ball to the feet of Welbeck. There is no stat (yet) which quantifies this ability, but if there were, I’m sure that Cazorla would lead the League.

When Cazorla first signed for Arsenal he was brought in to replace Cesc Fabregas. He did admirably in his first year but then Arsenal were presented with the chance to sign another world class creative midfielder, Mesut Özil, and Cazorla was relegated to a supporting role wide as Özil took the central spot. His goals and assists numbers dropped and it looked like he might be leaving Arsenal to be a star somewhere else.

But he didn’t leave. His head never dropped. He did what Arsene asked of him and plaayed his heart out for the team, wherever Wenger put him. And on the last game of the season, it was his strike from a free kick which gave Arsenal the impetus to come back from 2-0 down and win the FA Cup 3-2.

To Wenger’s great credit he ignored the pundits who said that it was a “no brainer” to always play Özil centrally and instead, when he returned from injury, he moved the German international to the left and let Cazorla keep the central midfield role. Instead of wondering how Cazorla and Özil can play together, people are now commenting on how seamlessly the two work together. And Wenger has been rewarded with that string of impressive performances from Cazorla. Cazorla, in turn, looks like a player who is really enjoying his football.

I know I’m really enjoying his football. Every time he plays I feel like I am watching a symphony, except when Özil or Sanchez stand up to take their solo, I turn to Cazorla, who is sitting there, eyes closed, soulfully playing the perfect notes to fill in for everything that the soloist leaves out.


Man at the match; Chary: Birmingham Villa swatted aside by Mesut and Santi

A solitary first half goal, well taken by Olly Giroud from a sublime Özil flick, was no portent for the avalanche of goals in the second half as a very ordinary Villa side capitulated with four more conceded in the second half, the fifth the cherry on the scoring cake.

With Saturday’s results all going for the teams around the Arsenal the was no margin for error and an out of sorts Villa looked like the ideal opposition.

The Arsenal pre match warm up

The Arsenal pre match warm up

My seat in the North Bank lower was in front of the warm up area for the playing members of the squad where Chesney, while firing in corner kicks for Ospina to collect, seemed to have a chastened look on his face.

The away support were no doubt hoping for a repeat of the corresponding fixture last season where the resulting home defeat led to much angst amongst the Gooner faithful.

The Birmingham Villa contingent

The Birmingham Villa contingent

Selection wise the expected unavailability of Alexis seemed to cause less consternation than it would have done earlier in the season, a reflection of the current better squad depth with Theo and Özil starting and Monreal replacing Gibbs at the back – a very strong looking side and a healthy bench, with possibly only the substitute striker department being inexperienced, Welbeck instead of Chubby Akpom would have been preferrable.

Soon after kick off a chance fell to Theo and as is the case nowadays the modern day supporter displays schitzoid tendencies by screeching with derision when a player doesn’t bury every chance, as a voice from behind me indicated. To be fair Walcott did show signs of rustiness as later in the game he would race to the touch line to keep a ball in but he approached the ball from the wrong side to scoop it back in, a basic error.

Another voice would say:

“This lot are rubbish, we should be getting at least four against them”

In comparison to Theo’s awkwardness Özil was gliding around the pitch with his trademark panache and pretty soon a lofted ball from the centre landed in his ambit, then a sublime flick from Mesut and Olly collected then slammed home to open the scoring.

Long distance view of Olly's goal

Long distance view of Olly’s goal

With the number of crucial goals the big Frenchman has been scoring lately the English media will have to tone down their accusation of him being a flat track bully; yes it was against lowly Villa but the first goal in any game is crucial.

After conceding fairly early Vila had to step up the pace of their game and then Coquelin’s worth came into view – he provided a robust presence in the middle of the pitch which Arsenal have lacked for a while. His tackling was generally clean and on the spot even if he may concede a few fouls but in the hurly burly of any midfield this almost inevitable.

While Coquelin’s bustling presence was a new pleasure to behold, a not so new one was Santi’s dazzling close control, where he seems to pluck lofted passes to him out of the air and caress the ball with ease.

The only Villa players that caught my eye were for naughty infringements – Benteke (as slow and as lumbering a striker as you will ever see) barging Kozzer as he was about to head a Villa cross clear, and another barge from the rotund Villa number 5 on Ramsey as he was jumping into a header.

Özil continued to ghost across all areas and, with Santi, pick and tease apart Villa’s defence to the extent that as half time approached the Ashburton Grove crowd felt the Arsenal should have been two or three up, with only some good saves by the bald Villa keeper and the woodwork preventing the half time lead from being greater.

The Villa manager must have had the hair dryer out as for about ten minutes after the start of the second half the away team actually pressed forward with purpose and Ospina’s calm, composed keeping continued to shine through.

Every Villa cross, and forward foray, caused little concern amongst the home support as the feeling was that Ospina would deal with it – no panic, just unflappability.

This being the first time I’d seen our Colombian keeper I hadn’t heard the call from the Gooner support when he would take a goal kick:

Osss-peeeeeeeeee-na !

A tad childish, but good fun and also something that may make Chesney grimace at the thought of how popular his counterpart has become so quickly.

As Villa saw no way past the twin shields of Coquelin and Ospina a breakaway attack led to Olly threading a ball through to Özil who calmly slotted home for the second. One goal and one assist already and our record signing looking well on the way to a return to form.

With his mid field partner in wizardry, Santi Cazorla, Özil weaved a spell on the Villa players that left them chasing shadows to the extent that somehow the BFG on one occasion found himself driving into the Villa penalty box and slotting over a cross that just eluded the Arsenal strikers – Beckenbauer-esque !

Santi and Özil bamboozle

Santi and Özil bamboozle

Again Santi found another perfect through ball and Theo ran onto it and finished instinctively, the best way for our number 14 and the match was safe at three nil to the good guys.

As expected the same voice who admonished Theo for fluffing the early chance was singing “Theo, Theee-oo!” the loudest of all just then.

With the game won a flurry of substitutions saw Tomas “Rockin” Rosicky and Chubby Akpom come on, the latter to replace Giroud who was by then visibly wincing from a first half collision with the Villa back line.

Having seen little of Chubby it was interesting to see what he brought to our attack. On the basis of today’s cameo a more controlled version of Sanogo’s energy maybe.

That drive saw him latch onto a pass into the penalty area and to my eyes he appeared to take a heavy first touch but somehow the Villa keeper was deemed to have fouled him after he lost control of the ball. Having had more than our fair share of penalties denied we were all happy to take one that probably wasn’t deserved.

Up stepped our man of the moment Santi (who had received the PFA player of the month award before kickoff) and to rub salt into the wound the Villa keeper got a hand to the penalty but only succeeded in parrying the ball onto the post and seeing it ricochet into the net, four nil.

A cheeky chap in the big screen video control room then showed a close up of the Villa keeper kicking the post in frustration after Santi wheeled off in celebration to much mirth in the home support.

A final flourish was the fifth goal, where after the usual Arsenal succession of probing passes around the penalty area a pass allowed Bellerin to run onto the ball in a line towards the goal and it seemed he’d decided, “enough of this fannying around, I’ll slam this one”.

Hector makes it 5

Hector makes it 5

A well deserved debut goal and the BFG’s usual applause for the crowd was in the upbeat mood befitting a thumping five nil victory.

The BFG thanks the gooners

The BFG thanks the gooners

While the opposition was not especially testing it was a resounding win that sets us up nicely for a trip to the swamplands of the Middlesex reprobates next weekend.

Last word to a couple of Villa fans overheard in their high-pitched whingeing Brummy accents in the queue for the station:

“I thought they’d be shit without Sanchez”

One man team? Emphatically not.


By ChärybdÏß1966 (on Twitter @charybdis1966)


Cazorla lifts Arsenal to beat City but what next when Özil returns?

The last time Arsenal beat Man City in Manchester was October 24th, 2010. Samir Nasri scored the first goal and set up the third in a blow out 3-0 win. Before the final whistle had blown Nasri’s agent was shopping him around and his performances even had Rio Ferdinand publicly tapping him up saying that Nasri was candidate for player of the year. The next summer, Nasri left for Man City and Arsène was forced to shop for his replacement. And if Nasri was the architect of the last win at City his departure made room for the architect of this year’s win at City, Santi Cazorla.

When Fabregas and Nasri left Wenger’s first choice creative midfielder was Santi Cazorla but Arsenal fans would have to wait a year to see Cazorla at Arsenal because Arsenal were outbid by Malaga in 2011. Wenger bought Arteta instead and Arsenal made do for another year.

The wait was worth it as Cazorla’s first season at Arsenal was magical. His job was to set up teammates and despite his impish size he often bossed the opposition final third. He finished that season with 12 goals and 11 assists and was by far the Gunners best player.

But then Arsenal bought Özil, or really Özil fell in our lap. Real Madrid needed to recoup some money from their Gareth Bale splurge and offered up the planet’s most prolific goal creator. Özil arrived amid much fanfare and immediately took Cazorla’s central spot, pushing the Spaniard to the wings or even, at times, to the bench.

Cazorla was still good enough to get plenty of games, though his minutes took a dip as Arsène juggled time between Cazorla and Özil. And with Ramsey making a breakthrough in central midfield it looked like Cazorla was going to be relegated to play backup or out of position.

Cazorla gave an interview in April of 2014 and it was painted by some in the press as Cazorla wanting out of Arsenal. If you read the whole interview, Cazorla never complains about playing time, about the position he was being forced to play, or about the extra defensive duties he had to take on. His only complaint was that he felt Arsenal were a bit soft mentally and he wanted to win trophies. He wanted to win trophies or he would leave, at the end of his contract. There was nothing wrong with a single word he said in that interview.

And Cazorla put his foot where his mouth was. When the trophy was on the line, Cazorla stepped up and kicked the ball into the back of the net, literally. Down 2-0 in the FA Cup final it was Cazorla’s goal from a direct free kick which relit Arsenal’s guns. Cazorla had shown the mental strength he needed from his teammates. It wasn’t just talk, Cazorla was stepping up.

Then, this summer, Arsenal bought Alexis Sanchez. Sanchez further complicated Cazorla’s position at Arsenal. So much so that there were rumors of Arsenal selling Cazorla.

But amid all this one thing has remained: Cazorla’s class. He has simply done what has been asked of him to help the team. He has put in the hard work off the pitch so that when he got his chance on the pitch he could show that he still has what it takes to lead this team’s offense.

The result of al his professionalism is that Cazorla was the mastermind of yesterday’s victory, Arsenal’s first such away victory since 2010. Beyond the assist and the goal, Cazorla ran Arsenal’s counter attack to perfection and still had energy left over to play defense. His numbers were off the hook: 54/59 passes, 10/14 dribbles, 2/6 tackles, 3 interceptions, 3 blocked crosses, and 2 clearances. Cazorla is an attacking midfielder and he was making tackles and clearances. Form is temporary, class is permanent. And with yesterday’s performance against the reigning Premier League champs Cazorla has proven once again that he is head of the class.

But what next for Cazorla? Özil will be back sooner than many expect. Ramsey is returning to full fitness, though he looked knackered at the end of the game against City. The work rate of Sanchez plus his goal scoring and playmaking makes him undroppable. And so where do we put the man who has helped carry this Arsenal team through an injury crisis amid a serious challenge for our spot in the Champions League places?

If you keep him in midfield where he played box-to-box with Ramsey, that means Özil goes left and Sanchez goes right with either Welbeck or Giroud up top. If you put him out left, then Sanchez goes right and we lose a bit of box-to-box energy with Özil in the middle of the park.

Complicating all this is the fact that the partnership he has developed with Sanchez is as important to Arsenal as the partnership between Mertesacker and Koscielny at the back. The proof is that Sanchez and Cazorla have either scored or assisted on 10 of Arsenal’s last 11 goals. They are a dynamic 1-2 punch in Arsenal’s attack.

So what do we do when Özil is fit? I don’t know, except I think Arsène has to play him.


¹Key Passes are a funny stat but Cazorla was third best in that category and was the best in creating chances from through balls with 17.