A few seasons ago Arsenal bought their first ready-made top, top player in years.
He has helped change Arsenal and push them into this new period where they are back winning trophies and, they hope, competing for the league again. No, that player is not Mesut Ozil, it’s Santi Cazorla.
Ozil came with the world-class price tag and the world-class name, but Arsenal’s Spanish magician was the first of this string of top, ready-made players. Not only have Arsenal evolved since the playmaker evolved, but Cazorla himself has also evolved.
When he came to Arsenal, Cazorla played as either a No 10 or a wide playmaker. He had a sensational debut campaign in England and won Arsenal’s Player of the Season, having won won man of the match after man of the match awards.
He had scored his first Arsenal hat-trick by December but in March Santi was pushed out wide by Arsene Wenger to fit Tomas Rosicky in and give the team more stability.
That somewhat limited the Spaniard’s influence, but didn’t stop him from getting four assists in the penultimate game of the season against Wigan. He finished the season with 12 goals and 11 assists, and established himself as Arsenal’s best player.
Then came the 2013/2014 season and with it came the arrival of Ozil. The German is one of the world’s top playmakers and arguably the best No 10 in Europe. So that meant Cazorla found himself on the left more often than not.
He then missed most of September through an ankle injury, but was still effective when played on the left. He went through fits and spurts of good form for the rest of the season, but never quite hit his performance levels of 2012/2013.
Going into last season, the thinking was that Cazorla would have a similar role to the previous season. He had a poor start to the year, but after Ozil went out through injury, he was allowed to be the main man again.
This helped him find some good form and get back to the player we all know he can be. Francis Coquelin came into the team as the defensive midfielder and won all kinds of praise for his defensive ability. Yet, for all his defensive ability, he’s not the most accomplished on the ball.
Along with that, Ozil was coming back into the team, so Wenger had to find a way to fit his in-form Spaniard and his world-class German into the same team.
The manager came up with a solution. He played Cazorla as a deep-lying playmaker next to Coquelin. After being moved into that role, he came into some of his best form as an Arsenal player. His ability to carry the ball and dictate the game with his passing has allowed him to flourish and remain a vital part of the Arsenal team.
What lies ahead for Cazorla could even more interesting. There are some thoughts that he could do what Mikel Arteta did under Wenger and play as the deepest midfielder for Arsenal. Despite his obvious lack of size, he has shown that he is able to deal with the physicality of the Premier League and can be quite good defensively (see Manchester City away).
It wouldn’t be a week in, week out thing, but when Arsenal play some of the weaker teams in the division, Cazorla as the deepest midfielder could be an option. Wenger used him there in the penultimate league game last season and in the pre-season game against Everton.
The evolution of Cazorla has been nearly as staggering as the evolution of Arsenal itself. He’s shown that class players can usually find a way to flourish and that sometimes technical ability can make up for lack of physical prowess.