Despite losing their three best attacking players in the last 13 months, Arsenal are sitting at a comfortable third on the table.
The offense took a few weeks to get going, but the defense is in fine form. The Gunners have the top goal differential in the Premier League, and it made sense to look at their newest star, Santi Cazorla.
He's played in all four league matches, and even though his stats aren't great, Cazorla has been a big part of Arsenal's success. Moreover, he will continue to play a big role throughout the campaign.
Cazorla began playing for his local club Real Oviedo at 11 years old. Before he was 18, though, Cazorla was already on his way to Villarreal.
He spent a season for the reserve side at Villarreal, impressing enough to make the first team by the next year. He made over 50 appearances with the first team; then he was sold to Recreativo de Huelva in the summer of 2006.
Cazorla was exceptional in his one season at Recreativo, being named Spanish Player of the Year for that season. Given the buyback clause in his transfer, Villarreal brought Cazorla back after only one year.
Surprise Euro 2008 Inclusion
Instead of selecting more established wingers, Luis Aragones took a chance by selecting Cazorla for the Euro roster. Cazorla responded by playing in every match except the semifinal.
He converted a penalty against Italy in a shootout, and he played the last 25 minutes of the final. By no means was he a star, but it was clear that a special player was getting recognized.
Cazorla was 23 at the time, and it was clear that Spain had yet another talented, young midfielder.
Time at Villarreal (Part 2)
As mentioned earlier, Cazorla returned to Villarreal on a buyback clause in the summer of 2007. He had a very good first year back, scoring six goals and assisting on six others as Villarreal finished second in La Liga. His consistent performances earned him a spot on the Euro 23-man roster.
After a good European Championship, Cazorla played very well, even though Villarreal took a slight dip to fifth in the league. However, after this season, it was clear that he was an elite Spanish player. Unfortunately, his 2009-10 campaign was riddled with injury, and he was left off the World Cup side that won Spain's only title.
Cazorla bounced back, though, playing a major role in Villarreal's fourth-place finish in 2010-11. After a successful career for the Yellow Submarine, he moved to Malaga for €21 million.
Last Year in Spain and Transfer to Arsenal
Cazorla was at a new club, but he was up to his old tricks.
He netted nine goals for Malaga, which was the highest total of his career. In order to accumulate nine goals, Cazorla had a few nifty free kicks, including a world-class, equalizing effort with Real Madrid in stoppage time.
His play caught the eye of Arsene Wenger, who was able to purchase Cazorla after Malaga suffered some financial issues. Arsenal brought in the Spanish star for the measly price of £15 million.
Role at Arsenal
Cazorla is a perfect fit for Arsenal. He's quick, creative and versatile, which are the exact qualities Wenger's system needs.
Cazorla plays in the midfield, but he can go just about anywhere. Whether it's wide, central, forward, holding or anywhere in between, Cazorla can make it work. With his footskills and creativity, he fits perfectly with the other Arsenal players.
The Gunners want to possess, and Cazorla can do just that. He can pass quickly, or he can dribble and dribble and dribble; he just takes what the defense gives him. Cazorla's unique method in carving up defenses is fun to watch, and it's something Wenger's sides strive to achieve.
It's well-documented that the Gunners haven't won a trophy since 2005. However, if Cazorla can continue to elevate his play (like he has for his entire career), he could be the primary reason Arsenal ends that drought this season.