Tag Archives: Cazorla


Elneny, Cazorla, and Ramsey: three different types of cannons for the Gunners

From yesterday’s comments we get today’s Question of the Day… Is Elneny really this good or is Ramsey really that bad?

It’s something that I have thought about myself. What am I really watching when I see Elneny play football? For this discussion I think we need to look at Elneny and Ramsey in the context of the player they are replacing, Cazorla. That looks like this:



So, basically, what you get is three different types of players. Elneny leads Arsenal in passing %, hitting 92% overall and 72% from long balls. This is the role Arteta played at Arsenal when he used to play for us back in the 1960s. The other number he does that is Artetaesque is the possession loss: low possession loss numbers go hand in hand with players who perform a metronomic function in midfield.

I don’t know why Elneny’s tackle numbers are so low. Perhaps he hasn’t had a chance to tackle as much, or perhaps he is learning the game, or perhaps Coquelin has just been on fire.

Cazorla leads Arsenal in passes per game, is second in key passes, and is fourth in dribbles.* Cazorla provides Arsenal with a second creative option in midfield. He likes to collect the ball and redistribute but he also can provide the final ball that Elneny hasn’t done so far.

And then there is Ramsey. And look, it’s just straight out true about Ramsey, he LOVES going forward: his shots numbers are like a forward, his possession loss is like a forward, and he doesn’t create for his teammates, kinda like a center forward. What Ramsey also offers, however, is that he tackles and intercepts like a midfielder and he’s third in pass volume behind Cazorla and Elneny!

My answer to the question is: none of them are good or bad but rather Arsenal have three different flavors of center mid to play alongside Coquelin.

All three players are insanely active on the pitch, Elneny runs more than all of them but Ramsey is no slouch – he goes back almost as much as he goes forward. With Elneny you have a player who sits deeper and dictates play with his passing but isn’t yet providing the final ball or breaking up opposition attacks with tackles. With Cazorla, you have a player who loves to recycle possession and provides a second attacking outlet in midfield. Cazorla is also a master at getting out of tight spaces with a groovy dribble. And with Ramsey, you have a player who makes runs into the opposition final third and never hesitates to shoot while trying to break up play from the front. Elneny is your long range gun, Cazorla is a middle gun, and Ramsey is a forward gunner.

All that said, this is a small sample for Elneny and there are signs that he can do all the things Cazorla can do. For example, Elneny had his best game of the season so far against Barcelona. It’s a statistical “one off” but in that game he was…

93% accurate on 45 passes, had 2 key passes, was 3/3 dribbling, was 3/4 tackling, made 2 interceptions, made 2 clearances, made 3 fouls in the right areas of the pitch, and scored Arsenal’s only goal.

He was Arsenal’s best player on the day and frankly gives Arsene Wenger a “selection headache” between him and Ramsey at the moment. Until Cazorla returns from injury, that is!


*Ox, Alexis, Welbeck are all in front of him but they are all 50% dribblers while Cazorla is a 80%. This is mostly down to the fact that the front three players are attempting dribbles in and around the box where it is crowded and Cazorla is attempting them in midfield where he has more space and fewer defenders.


Ramsey and Arteta: square pegs filling giant round holes

Good morning all, I had a good chat with Tim Stillman and Chris Toronyi on the ArseAmerica Podcast yesterday and if you have a few minutes today you should take a listen. In it, one of the things Stillman mentions, and something echoed by Arseblog today, is that with Cazorla out this is a really big chance for Aaron Ramsey to step up and show what he can offer. But even a cursory glance at the stats has left me feeling like this is a big ask for Aaron.

Cazorla dovetails very nicely with Mesut Özil. It’s not just his job to pass the ball to Mesut, he has co-creator responsibilities. It’s a 1-2 punch with Mesut the main man and Cazorla there behind him causing teams to cover multiple options. No one creates as many scoring chances as Mesut Ozil (58 this season) but having Cazorla there (with 37 key passes) makes it more difficult for a defense to just shut down Özil.

Also when it comes to taking corners and free kicks, Cazorla and Özil share responsibilities. In terms of set plays, Cazorla takes about 40% of the corners and about 67% of the free kicks. He’s second on the team in key passes per game from corners, and he leads the team in assists off free kicks. In fact, he has just the one assist from open play this season.

Further back up the field, Cazorla does the difficult job of bringing the ball forward for Arsenal and he does so with precious few mistakes. In fact, he and Coquelin are the league’s most efficient duo.

Caz is a 90% passer this season and is passing at a career high 82 passes per game. The only players passing the ball more accurately than Cazorla are: Affelay, Schneiderlin, Ki, and the top pass% in the League, Coquelin.

Cazorla also leads the League in passes per game with 82. The second most active passer is Cesc Fabregas who is averaging 69.5 passes per game.

This combination of Cazorla and Coquelin in midfield is potent indeed. Cazorla made 85 inaccurate short passes this season, that’s about 6 per game. Francis Coquelin misplaced 37 short passes this season. That means that between these two players, in 26 appearances, they missed just 122 short passes. Again, Cesc Fabregas, the second most prolific passer in the League, has misplaced 120 short passes by himself.

Coquelin also improved his first touch by leaps and bounds this season and it showed in the stats. In 12 matches, Coquelin turned the ball over (miscontrolled) just 4 times. This isn’t entirely attributed just to his physical ability to control a pass but also better positioning on the field, in other words, not receiving the pass in a dangerous area. Cazorla, on the other hand does often receive the ball in tight spaces and his turnover numbers are even more amazing, considering where he gets the ball and how often, he has just 12. The two of them combined for 16 turnovers, while Aaron Ramsey, playing in a more advanced position already has 18 in just 10 games.

The other thing that Cazorla does exceptionally well for Arsenal is dribble in tight spaces. You’ve seen it: he collects the ball deep and then makes a little twinkle-toed move and slips past his marker creating a chasm of space for him and his teammates to work in. Cazorla is 36/45 dribbling this season. That’s an incredible 80% success rate. Coquelin was no slouch in this regard, he was 22/25 an even more impressive 88% dribbling rate.

So, what you have with Coquelin and Cazorla are the two very best possession based midfielders in the League and one of the League’s most creative midfielders.  But wait… there’s more.

Yeah, defense.

Coquelin’s pure numbers have dropped since last season but that is to be expected. Last season teams were testing his mettle. He passed those tests and so this season fewer teams are dribbling at him. He’s also gotten better at his positioning. Barring that lunge he made to injure his own ligaments, Coquelin has been out of position less often this season and combined with teams going around/over him that means fewer chances to tackle.

Still, he and Cazorla led the team with 51 attempted tackles each. Coquelin made 75% of his tackles, while Cazorla made about 49%.

And interceptions, Coquelin doesn’t lead Arsenal or the League (Koscielny is Arsenal’s most active pass… rusher?) but he gets a healthy 2.7 per game and Cazorla, as part of the Arsenal press, averages 1.8.

What this all boils down to is the fact that Arsenal have lost their starting midfield duo, a team-within-a-team, which is one of the most effective partnerships in the League. The players being mooted to replace them, Ramsey and Arteta, once formed a little mini-team of their own in 2013/14 and so we have a point of comparison:


Let me first state unequivocally that this is not a perfect comparison. The League seems to shift slightly every year, in terms of tackles per game, interceptions, and even number of passes and shots.

The other factor is that in ’13/14 Arsenal’s midfield was very different than it is now. Cazorla and Özil played wide a lot, Wilshere got 24 apps, and even Tomas Rosicky played 27 times, including 17 starts.

Arsenal’s attack and defense were different as well. Ramsey and Arteta had an excellent passing partnership in midfield which sometimes lacked that ability to get forward and break through enemy lines which Cazorla and Coquelin can do. And on defense, Arteta is not as mobile as many defensive midfielders and has to use his game nous to control space rather than simply tackle players away. 

So, what this chart represents isn’t a criticism but rather a riddle. It’s rather simple to say that Ramsey has a chance or that he has to step up. Step up to what? Dribbling more? Playing the passing lanes better? Creating more for his teammates? Being more of an all around midfielder than he has been? Perhaps. But that’s not something a player can simply “decide” to start doing. It’s not like Ramsey’s been holding back on the dribbling for all these years and he’s suddenly going to step up.

For my way of thinking, the problem is that Arsenal, as a team, have been playing a certain way with certain personnel — Cazorla, Coquelin, Özil, and Alexis. Two of those players, Coquelin and Cazorla, have formed a crucial partnership and now both are injured for at least three months. That leaves a giant aporia in Arsenal’s midfield and Wenger has the unenviable task of either fitting two square pegs into giant round holes or the even more unenviable task of retooling how the team plays.


Cazorla (1)

Cazorla shows size doesn’t matter as he bosses Dinamo’s midfield

The big worry ahead of the match against Dinamo was whether Santi and Flamini could work together as a midfield duo for Arsenal. It was mooted often that Santi couldn’t boss the area without the more physical Coquelin at his side. Santi, many said, would have to be shunted off to the right and someone else brought in for him. Someone bigger. Someone more physical.

Dinamo played a physical game against Arsenal and referee Viktor Kassai let the Croatian team get away with many hard tackles that probably should have been called as fouls. Despite being a Champions League tie, and the supposed less physical nature of those matches, Dinamo kicked and pressured Arsenal throughout the match and were especially physical in the first 30 minutes, as I pointed out in my By the Numbers column.

Flamini didn’t have a bad game but he didn’t offer much for Arsenal. Flamini had 2/3 tackles (one was a spectacular sliding effort) he made 2 interceptions, and he even managed 7 ball recoveries. But it was his midfield partner who actually bossed the midfield.

Cazorla led both teams in passses with 66/73.He also kept Arsenal’s attack ticking over with 21/27 passes in the Dinamo final third. He also led all players with 9 ball recoveries (tied with Nacho), was second on the Arsenal team with 3/5 tackles, made 2 interceptions, and even led Arsenal with 2/5 headed clearances!

To be fair, those headed clearances weren’t aerial battles in the middle of the box but rather Santi attacked the ball whenever Dinamo tried a short corner. And Santi also didn’t create a single shot for a teammate, which is unusual, and he was 0/4 on corners which is also unusual.

But it was his 7/7 dribbling which was most impressive. Whenever Dinamo tried to press him with a bigger, more physical midfielder, Santi simply slithered away with the ball. It was one of those dribbles which led to Arsenal’s opening goal. Santi broke pressure, passed to Flamini, Flamini to Alexis, and Alexis to Özil. And lest you think Santi was just abusing one man, he did it on both sides of the pitch.



Watching that performance yesterday left me wondering if the real secret to Arsenal’s success over the last year wasn’t down to Coquelin and his flashy tackling, but rather down to the fact that Cazorla is nigh unstoppable. He certainly wasn’t helped much by Flamini in midfield yesterday and yet he bossed the entire midfield, front to back.

There’s a bias against small people in general in most societies. But there’s an unfounded bias against small people in football. Whenever fans call for Wenger to buy a midfielder they often ask for someone over 6′ who is built like an American linebacker. But the way Cazorla played yesterday leaves me wondering if people shouldn’t have a rethink?