Today we unveil the Arsenal.com Player of the Season as voted by the fans… and it is Santi Cazorla.
The Spanish schemer has had an outstanding first season in English football and received 55.7 per cent of the votes.
Arsenal reporter Rob Kelly gives his verdict on the 28-year-old.
“He is the perfect footballer.”
As compliments go, it is pretty emphatic. In a sport where hyperbole is king, you might assume the source of this description of Santi Cazorla was an enthusiastic fan or an admiring pundit. Instead it was from Per Mertesacker, one of the most considered, intelligent members of his profession.
"He is both the conductor directing the orchestra and the beating heart of a team that has quickly grown reliant on his vision, strength of character and technique"
The German defender has played alongside some of the finest players of his generation, but even he felt moved to the edge of wild abandon by the brilliant Iberian. After all, Cazorla had just scored twice to rescue a vital three points against Aston Villa during the most delicate point of the season. Successive defeats to Blackburn Rovers and Bayern Munich had left a cloud hanging over the Club - but Cazorla’s brace provided a glimmer of light.
“I am happy and grateful he delivered two important goals today,” a relieved Arsene Wenger said afterwards. “For me he is a complete player because he also has spirit. He continued to fight until the last minute even though he was a bit tired. He is a good example to follow because every day he is happy to come and play and practice. When he is on the pitch he gives you everything.”
By this point of the season, in late February, we had grown used to the buzz surrounding Cazorla, but when news filtered out last summer that he would soon join the Club the level of expectation was huge. Had we finally found the rightful heir to Cesc Fabregas’ throne? Arsenal legend Robert Pires thought so, but warned his former Villarreal team-mate may take some time to settle.
That was not the case. Cazorla did not hit the ground running as much as sprinting, delivering a dazzling display in pre-season against Cologne and then turning on the style in the early stages of the campaign. His first goal and first assist came three games in, against Liverpool at Anfield, and it was a portent of things to come.
It was love at first sight for the Arsenal supporters, and the feeling was very much mutual. “I’m enjoying the atmosphere here, especially the warmth shown by the Arsenal fans, which I didn’t expect to receive from day one,” Cazorla said. “Being new, coming into a different culture and not speaking the language is always difficult. But Arsenal made me feel part of everything right from the off, as if I’d been part of the side for years, and this was reflected in my performances on the pitch. I felt at home and I played well.”
"Cazorla may be diminutive in size, but his impact has been enormous - as his statistics testify"
You might expect a dip in form after such an instant impact, but if anything Cazorla’s influence and authority only grew with each passing week. It is the mark of a top-quality player that in the biggest games, when his side needs him most, he will deliver - and goals against Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham spoke volumes.
Cazorla is one of the leaders of the new-look Arsenal, a player whose enthusiasm, energy and brilliance has the ability to lift those around him. He is both the conductor directing the orchestra and the beating heart of a team that has quickly grown reliant on his vision, strength of character and technique.
And talking of technique, have you ever seen a player quite as ambidextrous as Cazorla? He is nominally right-footed, but seems just as comfortable delivering raking balls crossfield with his left. It really is something to behold.
“He is right footed but when you watch him play you don’t know. It shows how important that is in the modern midfield,” a bemused Wenger said. “Right or left foot was always important, but we forget about it sometimes. Glenn Hoddle was like that - left-footed, right-footed, you could not say what he was. Cazorla is similar on that front. I don’t remember anyone else I have worked with who was as two-footed.”
Cazorla may be diminutive in size, but his impact has been enormous - as his statistics testify. In his first season in the Premier League - and his first outside of his homeland - he made 49 appearances, started 37 of 38 Premier League games, scored 12 goals, laid on 14 assists and won 42.2 per cent more votes than any other player in our poll.
Perhaps Per is right, we really do have the perfect footballer.
Copyright 2018 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.