Every month the Arsenal Magazine brings you the complete Gunners guide to members of our first-team squad. This time, we profiled midfield maestro Santi Cazorla.
- Name: SANTI CAZORLA
- Position: Midfielder
- Squad number: 19
- Nationality: Spanish
- Born: Llanera, Spain, December 13, 1984
- Joined Arsenal: from Malaga on August 7, 2012
- Previous clubs: Villarreal, Villarreal B, Recreativo Huelva, Malaga
- Arsenal debut: v Sunderland (h) League, August 18, 2012 (drew 0-0)
- First Arsenal goal: v Liverpool (a) League, September 2, 2012 (won 2-0)
- Arsenal honours: FA Cup winner 2014, 2015, Community Shield winner 2014, 2015
- Twitter: @19SCazorla
From every angle
Just like Santi Cazorla, former Gunner GRAHAM RIX certainly knows what it takes to rise to the big occasion.
Arsenal had stormed into a two-goal lead in the 1979 FA Cup final against Manchester United but as the game approached its final stages, Gordon McQueen and Sammy McIlroy scored to peg the Gunners back.
Terry Neill’s men were stunned as a buoyant United side suddenly looked favourites to score again, but then Liam Brady surged forward and found Rix who delivered an inch-perfect cross for Alan Sunderland to poke home at the far post.
The FA Cup was coming back home to north London for the first time in eight years. Santi Cazorla holds a similar place in the club’s history.
Trailing 2-0 against Hull City after 10 minutes of the 2014 FA Cup final, the Spain midfielder stepped up to arrow a free-kick into the top corner and kick-start one of Arsenal’s greatest ever comebacks.
“When he arrived he had that fantastic ability to produce a moment of magic, but now I see him winning tackles, chasing back and being a complete player.
"He has realised that he can play, that he has the ability and he was outstanding on several occasions for Arsenal last season."
Nothing illustrates Rix’s point better than Cazorla’s performance in last season’s 2-0 win at Manchester City, when the midfielder completed 92 per cent of his passes, won all of his tackles, and claimed a goal and an assist on a hugely impressive afternoon at the Etihad.
“With the ball and without the ball he was unbelievable,” Rix says. “He ran the game and he more than held his own against Manchester City’s powerful players like Yaya Toure and Fernandinho.
“No matter where you are on the pitch, whether you have the ball or not, you have to do you best to get back no matter what position you are playing whether it be a lazy No 10 or a holding midfielder.
“You have that responsibility and I think playing deeper, when I initially saw him in the middle of the midfield, I was a little worried about that side of his game. But I must say he has proved me wrong and he has become absolutely outstanding.
“Whether it is in the middle of the pitch or the final third he usually finds a Arsenal shirt with his pass, which I think speaks volumes.
"The higher up the pitch you go the more difficult it is, but he has got that composure and calmness on the ball. He is confident in his own ability, left foot or right foot and makes things happen by going past people.
“I like to think I was good at passing too, more often than not to my own team-mate which is always a good habit to have. I had an ability to beat people and deliver crosses and shots.
"Maybe, a little bit like Cazorla in a way as I would run at people in the box and look for little one-twos.”
"But if people are comparing Santi to me, I’d be well pleased"
The Cazorla comparisons do not stop there, though. Like the diminutive Spaniard, creating goals was Rix’s bread and butter, and there is one assist in particular which the former England international remembers very fondly.
“It was for Frank Stapleton at Highbury one day against Spurs,” he recalls. “We were defending, the ball came to me and because Frank knew me he came in short, span in behind and I curled a 40-yard pass to him.
"He controlled it and lobbed the goalkeeper for us to win 2-0 at Highbury. In fact, I remember Santi making a similar assist against Hull City last season.
"It was an incredible pass to find Aaron Ramsey from just inside his own half. I didn’t bring mine up on purpose but it is very similar to that one!”
Rix played more than 450 times for the club and provided Arsenal fans with plenty of memories during his 11-year spell.
But, for the England international, who captained the side in the mid-80s, none stand out more than his cross to set up Paul Vaessen’s winner against Juventus in the 1980 Cup Winners’ Cup semi-final.
“Juventus were a world-class team at the time,” he recalls. “Eight of their starting XI were playing for the Italy team who won the World Cup two years later. They were really a top, top side.
“It wasn’t just the goal or the pass though, it was the occasion and the opposition which meant a lot to me. To be able to do it against that sort of opposition was amazing, where we were beating people like Claudio Gentile and Gaetano Scirea. It meant a lot to me back then, that goal,and it still does.”
Rix is still heavily involved in football as head coach of Wessex Premier League side AFC Portchester, but he admits he would love to be able to play the modern game.
“I really enjoyed playing back then because of the privacy we had in those days,” he says. “We could go in a local club and not have it splashed all over the internet, but I would enjoy playing on the fantastic pitches today.
“Week in, week out I see the surfaces that they’re playing on and I think back to what we had to deal with Bolton away on a Tuesday, and there’s no way those matches would be allowed to be played today.
“That being said, all those years of covering Sammy Nelson, Kenny Sansom and Liam Brady have taken taken their toll on my legs and I wouldn’t be able to play anyway!” So what about the AFC Portchester team. Are they aware of Rix’s achievements?
“The lads are far too young to remember me playing,” he laughs. “But if people are comparing Santi to me, I’d be well pleased.”
FIVE MOMENTS THAT DEFINED SANTI’S CAREER
Signing for ArsenalAugust 7, 2012
With the new season less than two weeks away, the Gunners made their third major acquisition of the summer when they landed Cazorla from Malaga.
The Spanish club were reluctant sellers, having signed Cazorla just one season earlier from Villarreal, but were facing huge debts at the time, and the threat of relegation if they did not pay them.
So Arsenal swooped, bringing him away from Spain for the first time in his career, at the age of 27.
“Santi is a great signing for us,” the boss said. “He is a player with good experience at both club and international level, who will add significant quality to our squad.
“He is a versatile, attacking midfield player who can play comfortably on either side of the pitch or centrally. He has good pace, is technically gifted and will be a huge asset to Arsenal.”
Cazorla, who had 45 caps for Spain at the time, took Jack Wilshere’s old number 19 shirt, and was named man-of-the-match on his debut against Sunderland, 11 days after joining the club.
Hat-trick v Reading December 17, 2012
With four goals in his first few months at the club, Cazorla had already demonstrated an eye from goal from midfield, but his hat-trick halfway through his first season confirmed his status as a valuable goalscorer.
Arsenal’s previous game was the damaging Capital One Cup defeat to Bradford, and the club was in need of a morale boost. On Monday night at the Madejski Stadium, Cazorla provided it.
Within an hour the Gunners were 4-0 up, and Cazorla had claimed the matchball. His first was, unusually a header, the second a left-footed finish from Kieran Gibbs’ cross. Then early in the second half he rounded off a flowing move with another left-footed finish.
His work for the night wasn’t over though. With 10 minutes remaining he set up the fifth goal (and Arsenal’s 12th away to Reading that season) for Theo Walcott. It remains the last time Arsenal have scored an away hat-trick.
Four assists against Wigan Athletic May 14, 2013
Cazorla ended his debut season in stunning fashion, providing all four assists in the 4-1 home win over Wigan Athletic, to relegate the FA Cup holders.
On 10 minutes he swung in a left wing corner for Lukas Podolski to head home, and on the hour Cazorla scampered away on the right wing, and his low cross was turned in first time by Theo Walcott.
Five minutes later he completed a hat-trick of creation, heading the ball through to Podolski who again finished first time to make it 3-1.
The final assist was a superbly timed pass to release Aaron Ramsey on the left wing, beating the offside trap, and the Welshman took the ball on to finish well.
A few weeks later Cazorla was named Player of the Season by users of Arsenal.com and the Spaniard had certainly made his mark in his first year in English football.
He was ever present in the league, scoring 12 times in all competitions, and this foursome took his assist tally to 14.
FA Cup final free-kick May 17, 2014
His first season had been a great personal triumph, but it was Cazorla’s second campaign in which he was able to celebrate with silverware – and he played a huge part in the success.
After scoring the decisive penalty in the FA Cup semi-final shootout against Wigan, Cazorla was back at Wembley for the final, and Arsenal’s chance to end a nine-year trophy drought. Things weren’t going well though.
Within eight minutes Hull City were 2-0 up and the Gunners were facing disaster. They needed a kick start, and Cazorla provided it. There were 16 minutes on the clock and Arsène Wenger’s men were awarded a free-kick the some eight yards outside the area. Podolski was the left-footed option, Cazorla the right.
The Spaniard stepped up and fiercely bent his effort up and over the wall and into the far top corner. Allan McGregor in the Hull goal got a glove to it, but couldn’t keep it out. The goal settled the nerves, and Arsenal went on to win 3-2 in extra-time.
Performance v Manchester City January 18, 2015
The Independent called it ‘a performance which will live long in the memory’ while the Guardian stated ‘Santi Cazorla’s performance could have been set to music.’
He certainly made the reigning champions dance to his tune at the City of Manchester Stadium, where the Gunners exorcised the ghost of last season’s 6-3 defeat.
The Spaniard opened the scoring from the penalty spot, and then set up the second for Olivier Giroud with a floated free-kick, but it wasn’t chiefly for his creative skills that Cazorla took the plaudits after this game.
His energy and control in the centre of midfield alongside Francis Coquelin meant City were never able to get into their stride all afternoon. He covered as much ground as any midfield workhorse in the league, but combined it with all the elegance and skill we have come to expect from the diminutive magician.
The performance, coming just weeks after his 30th birthday, set the tone for the rest of the season, not just for him personally, but for the team as a whole.
ARSENE WENGER ON SANTI CAZORLA
The first time he saw him play...
“It must have been when he was at Villarreal. He wasn’t in the squad when we played against them in the Champions League, but that’s when I became aware of him.
“But then he played on the right side, he was a young upcoming player. I think I first saw him when he was about 20 or 21. He was not a regular player, but in some games we watched you could see he had talent. “After that Robert Pires moved to Villarreal and played with him. Sometimes I asked Robert, ‘are there any good players there?’ He said to me straight away “Cazorla is a fantastic player”. So Robert was being a scout for me! He at least confirmed the impression I already had about him.”
How he signed him...
“After Villarreal he went to Malaga. Malaga collapsed financially so we had the opportunity to sign him. I remember I was negotiating with Malaga for more than a month.
“It was so difficult because they had a Qatari Shiek who was the owner, but he left and it was a problem to find him. He disappeared and there was nobody there to negotiate with.
Concerns he would adapt to the Premier League...
“Yes, you could question whether he was physically equipped to play in the tough Premier League. It’s true that I had that doubt, but his quality was so big that I was ready to take that gamble.
“His technical quality, his right foot, left foot, his availability, his vision and the quality of his passing made me go for it. I thought ‘if there is a team in the Premier League where he has a chance to make it, it’s with us.’ That’s why I went for it.”
The verdict from...
Miguel Delaney, journalist for ESPN and Independent on Sunday shares his opinion on the midfield maestro.
Cazorla almost represents an ideal prototype for Spanish youth production – technically gifted, tactically excellent – there’s a slight irony in the fact he didn’t come through the country’s sensationally successful underage sides of the last decade.
The Asturian native didn’t actually get his first cap until the under-21 team, so didn’t rack up series of underage medals like so many of his current international teammates did. As such, he wasn’t quite seen as an exceptional prodigy in that sense.
That’s both a reflection of the fact he began his football education at lower-league Oviedo – who he has been vocally in support of during their recent troubles – and that his development into a thoroughbred midfielder was slightly belated.
Take his eventual breakthrough with Villarreal, who he joined in 2003. Although he very quickly made his debut in 2003/04, before current Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini’s trusted him for 28 games of the club’s first ever third-place finish in 2004-05, he was sold to Recreativo Huelva in 2006.
That apparent backward step brought the twist, and the proper breakthrough. Newly-promoted Recreativo visited Villarreal in September of the 2006/07 season – just a few months after Villarreal had been beaten by Arsenal in the semi-finals of the Champions League – and claimed a shock 1-0 win, with Cazorla absolutely running the game... and scoring the 82nd-minute winner.
If Villarreal hadn’t realised just how good he was, they were sure to recognise it now, but they had already taken some insurance out. The club had put a buy-back clause in the deal with Recreativo and Cazorla swiftly returned as soon as a brilliant individual 2006/07 campaign was over.
It’s fair to say this was the point we were seeing the Cazorla we know now, and there was no greater sign of that as when Villarreal immediately gave him the number-eight jersey that Juan Roman Riquelme had worn for so long, relegating the Argentine to number-16.
By the end of the season, Cazorla was selected for Luis Aragones’s ultimately victorious Euro 2008 squad and talked of as one of the brightest players in Spain, with Real Madrid in for him. He went to Malaga with Pellegrini, and we know the rest...
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