Although Arsenal’s start to the 2013/14 campaign has been excellent, it has not been perfect.
One of their most gifted players is still to hit the heights of which he’s capable. Arsenal are yet to see the best of Santi Cazorla this season.
Cazorla made a strong case for being Arsenal’s best player last season—indeed, the fans voted him as Arsenal’s Player of the Year. Cazorla contributed 12 Premier League goals in 2012/13, along with 11 assists. His contribution was integral to Arsenal’s eventual qualification for the Champions League.
This season, however, he has been far from his best. Cazorla’s contribution has been overshadowed by those of Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil. According to WhoScored, his 10 Arsenal appearances so far have yielded just a single goal and only one assist.
When Ozil signed for Arsenal, there was understandable excitement about the prospect of seeing him link up with Cazorla. Both players are extraordinarily gifted individuals; in tandem, they ought to be unstoppable.
However, it hasn’t quite clicked yet. Both Ozil and Cazorla have produced their best Arsenal performances in the absence of the other.
One explanation is that Cazorla’s season has been interrupted by injury. In the week that Ozil joined, Cazorla picked up an ankle problem that kept him out of the side for five weeks. Their creative partnership is still in its nascency and will surely improve given time.
Cazorla may also be suffering from fatigue.
No Arsenal player featured in more fixtures than Cazorla in 2012/13. He played 49 games, starting 47.
He has also spent much of the last two years being flown around the globe representing world and European champions Spain. The last two summers have seen him heavily involved in international tournaments. Unsurprisingly, he looks tired.
At almost 29, Cazorla is not quite as sprightly as he once was. The ankle injury is a sign that increasing care needs to be taken with his body.
That’s Arsene Wenger’s responsibility. At the moment, a lack of options makes Cazorla undroppable. However, in the next few weeks, the likes of Lukas Podolski, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain should all return to action, and Wenger will be spoilt for choice on the flanks.
Wenger must seize the opportunity to afford Cazorla the occasional rest. Last season, he was overplayed and Arsenal are witnessing the cost of that decision in his subdued displays since the start of this campaign.
If Wenger plays Cazorla into the ground, his form is unlikely to improve. However, if he is used sparingly and intelligently, Arsenal will begin to see the best of their diminutive playmaker.
James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013/14 season. Follow him on Twitter here.