The main positive to emerge from Arsenal's opening day, 0-0 home draw against Sunderland was the performance of Santi Cazorla. The ex-Malaga and Villarreal star showed the inventiveness and technique missing from the attacking portion of Arsenal's midfield for most of last season.
Most importantly, Cazorla's impressive debut showed that he can fill the void created by last summer's departure of Cesc Fabregas. In other words, he can occupy the most important position in Arsenal's current formation.
Gunners boss Arsene Wenger has designed his hybrid 4-3-3 tactical structure to emphasise the qualities of an intelligent and creative flair player at the hub of the midfield. Fabregas was the ideal exponent of this role, thanks to his assured control and knack for splitting defensive gaps with clever and precise through passes.
Losing Fabregas to Barcelona was by far the biggest blow to Arsenal's hopes of legitimate trophy contention last season. Without a regular supply of ideas and accurate distribution from the attacking midfield position, Arsenal had to adopt a more direct approach, emphasising speed from wide areas.
As the season wore on, teams began to stifle the width created by the likes of Gervinho and Theo Walcott. When that happened, Arsenal struggled to consistently create credible scoring opportunities.
That's why Cazorla's arrival is the most important addition of the summer for the Gunners. He has revealed that being allowed to play centrally is something he is excited about, according to John Cross of the Daily Mirror.
According to the Mirror report, Cazorla is confident he can handle the crucial central role:
That’s where the manager played me, as a second striker, with the freedom that I like to have. It’s a position I really like, not one I’ve played in much in recent years, but I will play there without problems.
The key word from that quote is "freedom." Operating in a free role against Sunderland enabled Cazorla to influence Arsenal's use of the ball in every area of the pitch.
Fabregas enjoyed a similar level of freedom during his time at Arsenal. That's what made the Gunners' stylish fluidity possible.
Moving a player who has spent most of his career on the wings into the middle is a bold move from Wenger. However, Cazorla's intelligent movement and versatile passing range make it a smart decision.
While it's dangerous to assign too much praise to a player after only a single game, Cazorla has taken no time at all to show that he can pose a threat in this vital position.
If Cazorla is able to deliver a consistent creative output, he will determine the success of Arsenal's season.
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