Can Santi Cazorla Become Arsenal's Team Leader?

James McNicholas@@jamesmcnicholasFeatured ColumnistJune 19, 2013

WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - APRIL 06:  Santi Cazorla of Arsenal during the Barclays Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Arsenal at The Hawthorns on April 6, 2013 in West Bromwich, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
Michael Steele/Getty Images

Santi Cazorla may be a small man, but he is a huge influence on this Arsenal team.

The club's recent Player of the Season poll underlines just how important he has become to the Gunners. Cazorla won the vote at a canter, seeing off competition from the likes of Laurent Koscielny and Mikel Arteta.

His victory is understandable. Within a year of his arrival, Cazorla has become integral and irreplaceable.

Cazorla started an incredible 47 games for the Gunners this past season and appeared in every single Premier League match. According to Squawka, he played the full 90 minutes in 68.4 percent of Premier League games.

Arsenal would be lost without him.

Cazorla arrived at Arsenal a year later than planned. Knowing that he would lose Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona, Arsene Wenger set out to find a player with similar levels of ingenuity. The Gunners were heavily linked with the playmaker, then at Villarreal, before he moved to Malaga. A season on, with Malaga swamped with financial problems, Wenger swooped and finally got his man.

Cazorla wasted no time settling in. In Arsenal's third Premier League fixture of 2012/13 at Anfield, he created their first goal of the season, weighting a deft pass into the path of Lukas Podolski. In the same match, he fired home from a seemingly impossible angle to open his own Arsenal account.

Tellingly, both contributions came from Cazorla's supposedly weaker left foot. The player had ably demonstrated the ambidextrous brilliance that was to typify his season.

In the first half of the season, Cazorla was deployed in an unfamiliar role as a central playmaker. He revelled in the freedom, immediately establishing himself at the heart of the Arsenal team. The Gunners danced to the beat of Cazorla's shuffling feet.

However, as Arsenal's season wore on and the stakes rose, Cazorla increasingly found himself confined to the left wing. Pragmatism superseded panache, and Arsene Wenger was forced to abandon some of his aesthetic principles.

Tomas Rosicky and Jack Wilshere were used in the No. 10 role in Cazorla's stead. Both players are technically gifted, but neither has the silken touch or panoramic vision that Cazorla provides. Arsenal became more robust but also more rigid.

Cazorla didn't fade entirely. He still made several stunning contributions to Arsenal's season from the flank, including a haul of four assists in the match at home to Wigan. However, the team was no longer constructed around him.

Cazorla might not be the most vocal presence on the pitch, but he is capable of leading Arsenal by example. He's the most gifted player in the squad, and the respect he has from his teammates is second to none. He'll never be the captain, but he could well be the conductor.

If Arsene Wenger wishes to build the team around Cazorla, he must re-deploy the Spaniard in a central role.

Wenger may be reticent. It would mean changing the structure of the team, introducing a traditional winger on the left-hand side and possibly a more defensive midfielder to replace Aaron Ramsey. It also raises question marks over just how Jack Wilshere fits in this new-look XI.

Given Cazorla's extraordinary gifts, such a change may prove to be worthwhile. Playing Cazorla on the left was enough to help a functional Arsenal secure fourth. Surrounding him with better players and unleashing him through the middle may allow Arsenal to do far more than that.