Santi Cazorla’s importance to Arsenal has never been talked about as much as it has this season.
Arsenal’s form has dipped since the Spaniard sustained an ankle injury against Ludogorets in early October and the news that Cazorla would need surgery on the problem, ruling him out for a further two months, has prompted large chunks of Gunners supporters to suggest that the club’s title bid could be majorly affected by the news.
Cazorla is adored by the red half of north London for his unique and expressive technical ability on the pitch. The ambidextrous attacking midfielder can play across midfield or behind the striker but has found his best position to be slightly ahead of Francis Coquelin in a deep-lying playmaker role intended to get the best out of No.10 Mesut Ozil.
Named Arsenal’s player of the year in his first season at the club, Cazorla has seen his position gradually get deeper as the years have gone by - most significantly since the acquisition of Ozil in 2014.
“When I play Santi most of the time I have Coquelin because he is a really defensive breaker of attacks”, Wenger said on Friday.
“He gives Santi more freedom. He is a more offensive player first although he is disciplined tactically. He is not a ball winner but a more creative player.
“We are close with the balance as Xhaka in midfield is moving upwards. He has a different influence to Santi. Santi is more of a guy who gets out of very tight situations with a very short technique, right and left foot, while Xhaka has a pass and is not a dribbler. He passes through the lines.”
The absence of Cazorla could be seen as less of a blow when you look at Arsenal’s fixture list over the next few months. Premier League games against West Ham, Stoke, Everton, Manchester City and West Brom are coupled in with matches versus Crystal Palace, Bournemouth, Swansea, Burnley, Watford and Chelsea.
It’s clear that the two stand-out games there are against title rivals Man City and Chelsea, but the upcoming months on paper aren’t particularly intimidating when you put them together as a whole.
Admittedly, it is dependent on whether Cazorla is out for solely the two months he claims his doctor has told him or the three months Wenger was quoted as saying to the media.
Signed for £30 million this summer, Xhaka remains the most likely candidate to fill in for the injured Cazorla. His style is more box-to-box with the 23-year-old preferring to pass through the lines rather than take players on.
Different footballers possess their own unique qualities and the lack of a dribbler in that midfield position could see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain be given a starting role there. If he’s able to maintain the composure and positional intelligence to play in a deep position then there’s no doubt that the England forward can stake his claim in this competitive Arsenal side.
Arsenal have an 80 per cent win record in all competitions with Cazorla in the starting line-up, a ratio that drops to 45 per cent in his absence. Such statistics speak volumes over the former Villarreal midfielder’s importance to the Gunners.
In five seasons at the club he has 25 goals and 36 assists in the Premier League and his versatility has been key to getting the best out of assist king Ozil. With contracts for a whole host of players expiring this summer, first on Wenger’s to-do list should be the silky Spaniard.
Wenger has already confirmed that he will open talks with Cazorla in January over a one-year extension on his current deal. While Arsenal may be forced to look for alternate options if his injury problems continue, the presence of Cazorla at the training ground and his ability to influence games from a 20 minute cameo appearance make it a contract worth extending.
The 31-year-old still has much more to offer. And while the likes of Jack Wilshere will be hoping for his midfield competitor to head back to sunny Spain for one last hurrah, the fact that Wenger wants to keep a player who is set to miss a key part of the season is another indication of just how influential and deeply respected Cazorla is at Arsenal.