The wait is almost over. Tomorrow afternoon, during Arsenal’s Premier League clash with Norwich, Gunners fans could finally bear witness to the sight of Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla in the same Arsenal XI. Both players have been passed fit by Arsene Wenger and are expected to start the game.
It’s hard to believe, but the last time Santi Cazorla played for Arsenal Ozil was still a Real Madrid player. Cazorla played a key role in Arsenal’s victory over Tottenham Hotspur. Back then, Ozil’s signing was still just a twinkling in Arsene Wenger’s eye during his post-match press conference.
As soon as Ozil signed, Arsenal fans were salivating at the prospect of seeing the German playmaker link up with the gifted Spaniard. However, an ankle injury sustained by Cazorla has prevented that possibility for as many as six weeks.
During that time, Ozil has flourished. His impact has been both immediate and impressive. In his short time with the club, Ozil has made the No. 10 spot his own.
That is not a problem for Cazorla. Although he was predominantly used in a central role in his first six months in England, Cazorla has recently become accustomed to being fielded as an auxiliary playmaker from the left flank.
This “inside forward” position is familiar to Cazorla. He was deployed in a similar fashion at both Villarreal and Malaga. Manuel Pellegrini was Cazorla’s coach at both clubs, and he favours a 4-2-2-2 formation with two defensive midfielders feeding two wide playmakers, who both are granted license to drift infield.
It’s a role that Robert Pires, Samir Nasri and Aleksandr Hleb have occupied under Arsene Wenger to great effect in the Premier League, and Cazorla has all the technical ability and intelligence required to follow in their footsteps.
However, Ozil is hardly a static player. In Arsenal’s recent Champions League victory over Napoli, he demonstrated great athleticism and awareness to regularly rotate with Aaron Ramsey and Tomas Rosicky on either flank.
Ozil and Cazorla’s versatility means they should be able to interchange positions seamlessly, bamboozling defenders with their movement off the ball.
However, it’s their ability on the ball that is most intriguing. Not since the title-challenging side of 2007-'08, when Cesc Fabregas combined regularly with Hleb and Rosicky, have Arsenal had a midfield with such an abundance of creative promise.
Cazorla seems enthusiastic about the prospect of linking up with a player of Ozil’s calibre. Sky Sports report that the Spanish international told Sphera Sports:
The incorporation of Mesut Ozil has given us a big leap in quality.
Hopefully we can now become one of the great teams and that gives us the chance to fight for the title.
If Arsenal are to compete for trophies, the creative axis of Cazorla and Ozil will surely be integral to their challenge.