How Santi Cazorla Can Build on a Monster 2013 for Arsenal
In a misfiring season for the Gunners where they showed Spurs-like levels of inconsistency before a fine run of form in the final straight, Cazorla was the one constant shining light for Arsene Wenger and Co.
Can Cazorla improve upon his 2012-13?
The 5'6" 28-year-old was one of only 12 EPL players to play in every single game last season. He weighed in with 12 goals, including a hat-trick against Reading, 11 assists and 10 man-of-the-match performances from 38 games to prove that Santi was the present that just kept on giving.
All in all he played an incredible 56 times for club and country in 2013-14. Not bad for a little guy playing in the so-called toughest league in the world.
His minute size and easygoing nature make him easy to underestimate for fans and opponents alike. Cazorla is rarely seen without a smile on his face, but when he takes to the pitch he becomes deadly serious.
His incredible technique, low center of gravity—afforded by his height—and ability make him almost impossible to stop by legal means when he gets on the ball. He pirouettes past opponents with the greatest of ease, ghosts into positions like he's moving on skates and possesses a touch like Velcro.
Using his left foot like a wand and his right foot like a lightsaber, Cazorla is capable of cutting any defense to pieces with his incredible vision and eye for goal.
He is the kind of player managers dream of owning, but only Arsene Wenger has him.
After having a stellar 2012-13, Santi is ready to push both his career and Arsenal into the next level.
Talking to Sky Sports, Cazorla spoke eagerly about next season.
We have great players. I am sure we will be a better team and improve.
This season we hope we can be even better and win trophies and the supporters can enjoy it. That is what Arsenal really wants.
These are wise words from the 56-capped Spanish international. As good as he was last season, WhoScored rated him as the third best player in the Premier League and the eighth best player in Europe, just imagine how good he could be with a season behind him and a full-strength Arsenal team.
It is now incumbent upon Arsene Wenger, the Gunners' legendary manager, to add real quality to his first team to get the best out of Cazorla—and Jack Wilshere.
These two players are easily the best and most important men at Arsenal. The fact that they also provide most of the creativity in Wenger's team means he must now buy a real striker to complement them.
Wenger can no longer gamble and bring in players like Olivier Giroud, Gervinho or the likeable Lukas Podolski. He must bring in a striker who will score and contribute at the highest level.
It is now refreshing, for many Arsenal fans, to see their team linked with the likes of Real Madrid's Gonzalo Higuain. It would now appear that the Gunners are viable and realistic contenders for the Argentinean. Jorge Higuain, the striker's father, told the Daily Mail that the Gunners, alongside Juventus, have placed strong bids for the player but that "nothing has been signed yet."
While strikers win matches, it is defenders that win league titles.
It is also clear that Wenger needs to strengthen his team at the back, especially in goal. Wojciech Szczesny does have potential, but Wenger must be close to running out of patience with the 23-year-old Polish international.
If he does not improve dramatically in 2013-14 it could be his last in an Arsenal jersey.
Another central defender is a must as Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker and Thomas Vermaelen continue to astonish and infuriate with their game-to-game levels of inconsistency. If Wenger could bring in a player of the same caliber of a young Tony Adams or Sol Campbell, all of their worries would be over.
The next piece of the puzzle is central midfield. Mikel Arteta, Aaron Ramsey and Abou Diaby are serviceable against most teams in Europe and the EPL. However, they are often found wanting against teams of the highest level.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is the obvious choice to play in central midfield with Cazorla and Wilshere in the 4-3-3 that Wenger favors so much. Now is the time for Wenger to place trust in the youth with so much potential.
The 19-year-old has progressed year-on-year since he joined in 2011. As quoted by the official club website, Wenger has acknowledged that the youngster has grown in stature this season and that his future is in center midfield.
Next season might come just too soon for the potentially world-class star. In this respect, he is likely to share duties with Arteta.
There is little doubt that he will feature more regularly in central midfield with Cazorla and Wilshere. This triumvirate would possibly be the most mobile midfield in world football—Barcelona included.
Cazorla is central to all those plans.
If Wenger wants to get the best out of his team, he needs to get the best of Cazorla—and vice versa.
It has been a long time since Arsenal's future was so inextricably linked with one player. Then again, it has been a long time since Arsenal had a player with the qualities of Santi Cazorla.
As we roll towards 2014, the Gunners' fans will be hoping he can continue to amaze, astonish and destroy the opposition—in that order.
Leave your comments, suggestions, thoughts on how Cazorla can improve next season in the section below.
Statistics from the official Premier League and Arsenal Football Club websites, WhoScored and Soccerbase.
You can follow me on Twitter @WillieGannon.
And listen to me on the Hold the Back Page podcast.
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