Today’s post is the fourth in a series profiling Arsenal players as we near the start of the upcoming campaign. Previously, I have written about Lukas Podolski, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere.
When talking about Arsenal’s strong lineup of attackers this summer, everybody has been referencing new signing Alexis Sanchez as the catalyst. And when it’s not him, it’s Mesut Özil, Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere that take the headlines. One name that doesn’t come up nearly as much as it should is Santi Cazorla.
The diminutive Spaniard has been rumored to be a target of Athletico Madrid in recent weeks, with some reports suggesting he is currently unhappy at Arsenal. But none of what’s in the news right now about Cazorla makes any sense to me. Cazorla has been nothing less than a star at Arsenal in his two years at the club, and Wenger seems inclined to do anything possible to get him in the lineup. Even when the more heralded Özil arrived a year ago, Cazorla still was a focal point in the attack when healthy.
It’s easy to forget at this point how good Cazorla was immediately upon his arrival in London. He took off from day one, going on to win the team’s player of the season award by a landslide in his first season at Arsenal, contributing 12 goals and 14 assists from his role behind the striker. And even last year, when pushed out wide to accommodate Özil, Cazorla still managed 7 goals and 9 assists in all competitions. His memorable free-kick goal to start the comeback against Hull in the FA Cup Final won’t soon be forgotten
His best position is unequivocally the number 10 role, as his creativity and vision in the midfield rank among the best in the world, but he has to play wider because of Özil. Out wide, Cazorla is not your typical winger. He isn’t going to blaze by any defenders with sheer pace, and he won’t send in many crosses. Instead, he drifts inside to link up with his fellow midfielders and his full backs. His short-distance passes are key to unlocking defenses, as they help create space for runners in behind. His head is always up, and at the edge of the box, his ability to finish with both feet is unparalleled. His two-footedness is part of what makes him so effective in the middle of the park, because defenders can’t gamble on one side versus the other.
But what Cazorla does on the wing better than any other Arsenal player is track back. His work rate has gone relatively unnoticed because of his stellar displays in the attacking third, but Cazorla always gets back when he is needed. Much like Tomas Rosicky, Cazorla buzzes around the middle 80% of the field, always eager to pick up the ball in his own half and take it forward. And on the left, he and Kieran Gibbs seemed to develop an understanding about defensive duties on the counter.
Cazorla might not be in many Arsenal fans’ starting lineup for the upcoming campaign. Most people, I’d imagine, would line up Sanchez, Giroud, Walcott/Oxlade-Chamberlain and Özil in front of Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta. But I guarantee you that Cazorla will be on the field more often than not. With Özil coming back to the squad late due to the World Cup, Cazorla will get a chance to start the year in his favorite position and I expect him to have an immediate impact alongside Sanchez. He will make it tough for Wenger to leave him out when Walcott comes back from injury. I think he’s going to have a great year.
At age 29, Cazorla will be one of the veterans in this Arsenal side. And while the young guns might steal some of the headlines, players like Cazorla will always be just as crucial to the overall success of the campaign. I’m not very worried about him leaving this summer because I think Wenger realizes how valuable his little Spaniard is. He’s the type of player you won’t notice how much he does for the team until he’s gone. And although he might be underappreciated and sometimes forgotten by Arsenal fans discussing the stars of the squad, Cazorla is just as important to this team as anyone else.
In a different Arsenal story, I am quite curious about why Calum Chambers was wearing a training shirt with number 5 on it for part of his first day at the preseason camp in Austria. Just yesterday, when Chambers was signed, he was assigned 21 to wear. And given that 5 is currently occupied by the captain Thomas Vermaelen, it seemed odd that the new signing wore that number yesterday, if only briefly. It might signal that the number will be his as soon as Vermaelen leaves on a transfer, and it could also be suggesting that a Vermaelen exit is imminent. Let’s hope nobody rushed out to buy the Chambers #21 kit.
On another completely unrelated note, I wish I lived in a place where people cared about the Commonwealth Games (does that place exist?). I know very little about the competition, but I love the concept. Were I British, I’d be all over it. For all who don’t know, it’s a competition not unlike the Olympics which involves only the nations of the former British Empire. After watching highlights of the ping-pong yesterday, I instantly wished I cared about the event. Oh well.
And lastly, today might be Jon Lester’s last day in a Red Sox uniform. He was supposed to start tonight, but I don’t think anyone was surprised to see him scratched last night. I think a trade could be in the very near future. It might be a very sad day in Boston.
Check back later for reaction to any Red Sox trades. I’m sure there will be a lot to discuss in the next 48 hours.