By Michael Cox
The only problem with Santi Cazorla’s outstanding consistency is that his level of performance is starting to be regarded as routine.
Few players settle so quickly in a new league, and even fewer become their side’s key player immediately - such a feat shouldn’t be overlooked.
You hardly need statistics to illustrate Cazorla’s fantastic start to life in the Premier League, but the former Malaga playmaker is impressive because he excels in various areas. Not only has he created the second-most chances in the Premier League this season, behind Everton left back Leighton Baines, he’s also played the fifth-highest number of overall passes.
Cazorla is not just a creator of goals, he’s also someone who helps Arsenal dominate possession and dictate the tempo of the game. The most prolific passer, incidentally, is Cazorla’s team-mate and fellow Spaniard, Mikel Arteta.
Despite Cazorla’s main task being to play incisive, penetrative balls, he’s still in the top 20 Premier League players in terms of pass completion rate. This list is dominated by defenders and defensive midfielders, who are under little pressure from the opposition when passing the ball - making Cazorla’s accuracy all the more remarkable.
The statistics go on: Cazorla has had the fourth-most shots in the league, has played the most through-balls in the league, is in the top 15 most frequent dribblers and the top 10 most frequent crossers. In almost every aspect of attacking play - passing, dribbling, crossing, shooting - Cazorla is among the division’s leaders.
Yet it’s impossible to quantify his main quality. His appreciation of space is his best attribute, giving him the ability to receive the ball in dangerous positions away from opponents. That’s the reason he’s such a constant influence despite his advanced positioning, and this is the root cause for his impressive statistics in other areas.
Cazorla played a key role against West Ham because he frequently received the ball in dangerous central positions between West Ham’s midfield and defensive lines. Arsenal’s most common passing combination at Upton Park - unsurprisingly, given the aforementioned statistics - was Arteta to Cazorla. But it’s not just about the frequency - it’s about how centrally Cazorla receives the ball.
Compare this to Arsenal’s previous match, the disappointing 2-1 home defeat to Chelsea, and there’s a marked difference.
Against West Ham, it was notable that Cazorla was particularly keen to use his freedom between the lines to shoot at goal. His stunning goal was his sixth attempt of the match - all were struck from central positions, generally in the zone just outside the penalty box - although his goal was actually the furthest shot he attempted.
It’s clear that Cazorla - and in particular, his relationship with Arteta - has become a crucial part of Arsenal’s attacking gameplan. The Spaniard is a fantastically versatile player, having excelled on both flanks during his time at Villarreal and Malaga, but he has been especially dangerous from central positions this season.Copyright 2016 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source