It is clear that Arsenal finds themselves in a good moment. They are currently at the top of the table along with Manchester City and Liverpool.
One man who has been instrumental in Arsenal’s good showing this season has been the Spanish midfield maestro, Santi Cazorla. The 31-year-old, who started out as an attacking player or wide player has recently had to settle for a deeper role in the Arsenal midfield. He has been deployed next to a ball-winning midfielder like Coquelin or Elneny and this allows him to gain control of the ball and feed it to the advanced attackers on the Arsenal side such as Alexis, Ozil and Iwobi.
Although Alexis, Ozil and some of the other stars often steal the headlines, it’s Cazorla who deserves a huge chunk of the credits. His presence was sorely felt by an Arsenal team who drew 0-0 at home to Middlesbrough. This was a difficult result to swallow for the Gunners as it meant they lost out on an opportunity to go top of the table after Manchester City and Tottenham slipped up as they were held to draws too, by Southampton and Bournemouth respectively.
In the game against Middlesbrough, Elneny and Coquelin started in midfield. Both are good midfielders in their own right but neither one is likely to have even a sliver of Cazorla’s touch and ability on the ball. The Spaniard is hugely effective at threading through passes and making the team tick in midfield. One telling stat that speaks volumes about Cazorla’s quality is that Arsenal’s win percentage since the start of last season is 68.2% when he plays and it is a disappointing 44% when he does not. This underlines the importance of Santi Cazorla in this squad.
Cazorla is quite a master in dribbling too. Since the start of last season, only Moussa Dembele (91.2%) and Yaya Toure (78.4%) have a better dribble success rate than Santi Cazorla (75.45%). This stat is garnered from a list of players who have attempted 50 dribbles or more. Every team needs a player to keep things ticking in midfield and Cazorla is that man for Arsenal as he has time and again proved that he is a master passer. He averaged more passes per game (81.9) than any other player in the Premier League last season. When it comes to pass success rate, only Ki- Seung Yung (90.9%) had a better percentage than Cazorla (90.2%)
Santi has also maintained a very high ball retention rate. He has averaged 70 passes per game, the third-most in the league this season. Elneny and Coquelin might do a decent job in midfield but they just cannot be trusted to burst forward in possession and make things happen like Cazorla often does. Opponents are aware that they can simply shut up shop and frustrate Arsenal when the Spanish magician isn’t on the pitch. This is exactly what Middlesbrough did to earn a point at The Emirates.
Arsenal are far more effective when Cazorla is on the pitch. The frontline might get all the accolades for breath-taking attacking football, but it is Cazorla that always pulls the strings for The Gunners. Although his key passes per game (1.3) has come down from previous seasons, he is still as effective. The reason for the decrease in key number of passes can be attributed to the deeper position he finds himself in these days. But it is clearly a role that the astute Spaniard is relishing. Without a doubt, Cazorla is one of the most vital cogs in the wheel that is Arsenal’s pursuit of the Premier League title.