When you think of the term leader and Arsenal football club, who are the first names that spring to mind? The aptly named ‘Bosscielny’? The Renaissance man that is Francis Coquelin? Alexis Sanchez? I suppose the Chilean did figuratively ‘carry’ the team in the latter stages of 2014, and we thank our mercurial master for those services.
Leaders come in all shapes and sizes, what is that terrible cliché? Big things come in small packages. Well that is just what Arsenal have in the form of 5’6’ Santi Cazorla, the little leader in the heart of the Gunners team.
Some time ago Cazorla’s Arsenal career seemed to be heading down the wrong track. After a sensational debut campaign the Spaniard suffered from the fallout of the signing of Mesut Ozil. The Spaniard was forced to play in the dreaded Wenger ‘LW’ role and subsequently form and confidence was seemingly sucked out of our Santi – but my word how it has come roaring back.
Cazorla’s positional change last season coincided with an inevitable Arsenal injury crisis – Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey the unfortunate serial sufferers of this fate. This forced Wenger’s hand to use Cazorla as one of the two central midfielders and it may have been a true blessing in disguise for Arsenal or just simply a tactical master stroke from ‘Le Proffeseur’.
The game at Anfield around Christmas time is the one for me that speaks volumes about Cazorla adapted and has gone on to thrive in his new role. Despite the rest of the Arsenal side failing to show up and Mathieu Flamini’s constant pointing but complete lack of positional sense, Cazorla delivered the performance of a true leader.He did the dirty work due to Flamini’s anonymous input, he was central to every Arsenal attack and his ‘heart and soul’ performance earned him a ripped shirt in the famous Santi ‘nip-slip’. This was Cazorla’s coming of age performance as one of Arsenal’s most crucial players and he has only continued to develop.
The development process as one of Arsenal’s new leaders on the pitch was to an extent completed after the Gunners visit to the Ethiad. Forecasts from pundits and fans were bleak as ever for Arsenal, Manchester City would punish Arsenal’s lacklustre defence after the midfield had erratically bombed forward which had started to become horrifyingly regular.
Surely Wenger wouldn’t change his tactics?
Well he did and our ambidextrous Santi was arguably the key to one of Arsenal’s great away days. His positional awareness and defensive solidity throughout the game was remarkable and his expertly delivered free kick which met the head of the glorious Giroud was the cherry on top of a memorable display.
After the City game Cazorla had made himself irreplaceable at Arsenal once again forging a combative yet skillful duo with Coquelin. It is testimony to Cazorla’s leadership qualities in the heart of midfield that former man of the moment Aaron Ramsey has been sacrificed to a ‘RW’ position although the Welshman has delivered admirably in this sacrificial role.
Rambo and Wilshere are still yet to prove themselves as leaders in the team in my opinion. Despite Ramsey’s goal scoring prowess his erratic runs forward can often prove costly in the big games leaving the back four exposed. Wilshere has put in some very assured performances in an England shirt and it will be interesting to see if he can replicate this form for Arsenal.
However for now it seems Cazorla is the man, a crucial part of a newly forged Arsenal spine. It was obvious to any man with any interest in a ball being kicked that Santi was wasted out wide, his influence on the game was minimal and he was regularly scrutinised by the ever fickle Arsenal faithful.
Now he has become the centre of everything that Arsenal do. 11 league assists, the second highest in the division. 2109 successful passes the third highest in the division. He is the metronome that keeps Arsenal ticking and has almost developed into Arsenal’s very own Xavi, although perhaps not as great, sorry I get a bit excitable.
2015/16 Arsenal are expected to be challenging for the Premier League, we have some of Europe’s finest players and have now made the excellent addition of Petr Cech. However in my opinion whether Arsenal challenge could hinge on the form of Cazorla and how he orchestrates the team. Leaders are something managers cherish in football and I think every Arsenal fan should for now cherish the fact that Santi is ours, hands off Atletico.