Santi Cazorla Is the Perfect Fit at Attacking Midfielder for Arsenal
Arsene Wenger is rarely effusive in his praise—it's a possible byproduct of so many years spent coaching top-flight football—but to hear him talk about his newest signing is to witness a man brimming with excitement.
Arsene Wenger could hardly hide his excitement.
"(Cazorla) looks like he could be one of the buys of the season," the French manager told the club's official site on Sunday.
The former Malaga midfielder had arrived at the Emirates less than two weeks before Saturday's league opener against Sunderland, but to watch him that day was to witness a man who looked as if he'd been steeped in the Gunners' style of play since his teens.
"He has everything you want in the game," Wenger said. "He can play short, he can play long, on the right or left, he can play the final ball and works hard as well. He is a fighter so it is very positive for us.
"[He settled quickly and] that shows people who say you need to play a long time together. Great players do not need a long time [to settle]."
So it was against the Black Cats—so dominant was Cazorla during the opening minutes that Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill tasked midfielder Lee Cattermole with shadowing the maestro for the rest of the match.
It proved an effective decision, but only to a point. Like a top player in any sport, Cazorla found ways to impact the game even with the spotlight fixed firmly upon him.
Julian Finney/Getty Images
His deft pass for fellow new signing Olivier Giroud sent the French striker in on goal with a golden chance that was eventually scuppered, and while that miss proved crucial, it could not take away from what was a golden-tinged league debut from Arsenal's new talisman.
Unmistakable Quality at a Position Arsenal Desperately Needed
Like Wenger said, the best players require little indoctrination to make their presence felt, even if it is a new club and a completely new culture.
Class is a common tongue in football, and teammates are always eager to be around it.
Cazorla was a force of nature on Saturday, frequently putting the Sunderland defense under pressure with a delightful cocktail composed of passing prowess, dribbling and incisive movement.
He misplaced just two passes during the entire first half, and even found the legs—he had gone the full 90 for Spain in their friendly in Puerto Rico just three days before—to unleash a fearsome drive that Simon Mignolet could only fist away.
It was a virtuoso performance that hearkened memories of a now long-gone attacking wunderkind.
Arsene Wenger had created the 4-2-3-1 formation—now in its fourth season of usage—with an attacking midfield position tailor made for Fabregas.
In the previous 4-4-2 formation, Fabregas had been called upon for defensive duties, given as how there were but two central midfielders in the park.
By adding another holding central player to the formation, Wenger granted Fabregas license to roam where he pleased, and dedicate his considerable creativity toward the attacking end.
In one of the formation's first games of employ, the 2009-10 season opener against Everton, Fabregas played the part to perfection, scoring two goals at Goodison Park in a 6-1 mauling and thoroughly flummoxing the Toffees' defense.
BBC's correspondent at the game called the Catalan the "creative force at Arsenal's heart."
Cazorla was something very similar, perhaps minus the goals, against Sunderland.
Like Fabregas, he is not blessed with searing pace, but plays at a speed few in football can hope to keep up with.
Whether it's playing one-twos with teammates collected around him (a former Fabregas specialty), or using deft feints and turns to get away from defenders, Cazorla is a maestro in every sense of the word.
With the freedom to roam, he put his stamp on the position of attacking midfielder, sending a clear message to Aaron Ramsey and Tomas Rosicky while doing so.
Those latter two had played the position for the near entirety of last season, and while both showed glimpse of attacking industry (Rosicky more so with a fantastic run of form from late January to mid-March), Cazorla's performance quickly put to bed any questions about competition for the role.
Ramsey may be better suited for a more box-to-box role in the long run where his industry and drive can be better utilized, and you never quite know whether Rosicky will stay fit (he's currently injured).
For now, Arsenal have their man at the position that was so crucial to the team's success during the two seasons Fabregas occupied it.
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