Santi Cazorla's Return Has Lifted Arsenal

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistJanuary 6, 2014

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 04:  Santi Cazorla of Arsenal in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Hull City at Emirates Stadium on December 4, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

Arsenal have been lifted by the return of gifted midfielder Santi Cazorla. The pint-sized Spaniard has galvanized the Gunners' pursuit of trophies with his hard work and class.

Cazorla was Arsenal's best player last season. But his second year in North London hasn't been quite as impressive.

That is largely thanks to the stop-start nature of his campaign. He missed the season opener against Aston Villa after international commitments.

His return keyed crucial wins over Fulham and Tottenham Hotspur. But an injury sustained on another meaningless junket with the Spanish national team kept him out for most of September and the start of October.

Once again, his return reaped immediate rewards. The former Oviedo, Villarreal, Recreativo and Malaga star was outstanding in Arsenal's 2-0 win over Liverpool in early November.

But when he was left out against Manchester City and Chelsea in late December, Arsenal were found wanting. A 6-3 defeat to City and 0-0 draw with Chelsea showed how much the Gunners miss Cazorla's industry and guile.

Manager Arsene Wenger knew it and immediately brought a refreshed Cazorla back into the team for the festive fixtures. The decision has paid huge dividends.

Arsenal have won four games in a row since Cazorla's reintroduction. He has been the star in at least two of those victories.

He was easily the best player on the pitch when Arsenal brushed aside West Ham United on Boxing day. Cazorla glided around Upton Park to produce his customary blend of trickery, direct running and clever passing.

His skill with both feet allowed Cazorla to pull off several Houdini-style escape acts from a crowd of markers. That was usually followed by a pass so sly even the cameramen were outwitted.

As Arsenal hammered The Hammers 3-1, Cazorla reminded everyone that his is a special talent. It was a timely reminder for a player swept into the background by the arrival of Mesut Ozil.

Cazorla was a central figure last season. But when Wenger paid £42.5 million to lure Ozil from Real Madrid, he inadvertently forced the star of 2012/13 onto the periphery.

But as 2013 has given way to 2014, Cazorla has shown that at his best, he boasts the skill and flair to match any player.

Just three days after proving worth the price of admission in East London, Cazorla channelled his inner grafter away to Newcastle United.

This day was all about toil even for Arsenal's style makers. Cazorla, as he so often does, did his bit. He provided cover for his full-back and even darted inside to join the scrap for possession in the middle.

He won the free-kick that produced the winning goal, after baffling midfield hatchet man Cheick Tiote with another trademark moment of ambidextrous genius.

But Cazorla's most recent performance may have been his best this season. He simply savaged Spurs in an emphatic FA Cup win. He netted Arsenal's first goal with a firm shot that surely sent several jaws dropping.

Cazorla remained a constant pest to both the Tottenham midfield and defence. That a veteran of La Liga would deliver such a dominant display in a competition that has lost a lot of its lustre on English shores, was remarkable.

This recap of Cazorla's recent outings was necessary to explicitly detail what makes him so important to Arsenal. The 29-year-old plays with a technical artistry that makes him a natural fit in Wenger's expansive brand of attacking football.

But Cazorla's scurrying industry is just as important. It perfectly suits a squad defined by the dogged determination of its members.

It is also what separates Cazorla from Ozil. Arsenal's record-signing is a luxury player. That luxury is to reward the graft of his teammates with those moments of individual brilliance that decide games.

Cazorla is a necessary complement for Mesut Ozil.
Cazorla is a necessary complement for Mesut Ozil.Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Ozil at his best, caps the hard work of others with a flourish of creativity that brings goals. But while the natural No. 10 exists only to be a closer, Cazorla is perhaps the most important spoke on the wheel.

He is the link that knits Arsenal's passing together. Cazorla can produce the ideas that turn stale possession into forward-thinking verve.

He transitions play from anywhere across the midfield and behind the forward line. It is Cazorla who crafts the initiative that players like Ozil, Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud can seize.

That is why Cazorla has made such a difference since he came back into the team. It is also why he could yet lift Arsenal to a trophy this season.


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