Santi Cazorla hasn't been nearly as bright for Arsenal this season as he was last season, but in a span of five minutes, he was the difference for Arsenal against Fulham, scoring two goals in the team's 2-0 win.
Cazorla's first strike came just seconds after a hectic scramble in front of the Fulham net in which the Gunners had numerous opportunities to score and somehow couldn't pull off the feat. But the club retained possession, Jack Wilshere played a beautiful cross from the left side of the box and Cazorla sliced home the game's first goal.
From NBC Sports Soccer:
Minutes later he struck again, this time sending a low shot from just outside the box past a sprawling Maarten Stekelenburg. From Fox Soccer Trax:
Brilliant work from Cazorla, who settles well then fires through Sidwell's legs to the near post. Classy strike. 2-0— FOX Soccer Trax (@FOXSoccerTrax) January 18, 2014
Not surprisingly, he earned WhoScored's Man of the Match honors, coming in with a 9.9 match rating. He finished with a 93 percent pass completion, took five shots and won four dribbles. Not a bad afternoon, eh?
It was a huge performance from a player who has been a bit disappointing after an epic 2012-13 season. WhoScored broke down the differences between the two campaigns:
Santi Cazorla: Has scored (3) or assisted (2) 5 PL goals for Arsenal this season, after scoring (12) or assisting (11) 23 goals last season— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) January 18, 2014
Of course, perhaps Cazorla just prefers playing at the Emirates Stadium. OptaJoe tweeted the following about the Spaniard's home form this season:
6 - Santi Cazorla's last six Premier League goals have all come at the Emirates Stadium. Comfortable.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 18, 2014
With Arsenal again battling injuries and now without key winger Theo Walcott for the season, a revitalized Cazorla would be key for the Gunners down the stretch, as Michael Cummings of Bleacher Report notes:
Good to see Cazorla back in scoring form. Hasn't been his season so far, but if this continues, would be a welcome boost for the run-in.— Michael Cummings (@MikeCummings37) January 18, 2014
A part of Cazorla's waning production surely has come from a change of roles, as he is now generally utilized on the left wing rather than in the No. 10 role he occupied for much of last year. That position justifiably belongs to Mesut Ozil now, though the two players do interchange quite nicely, much to the chagrin of opposing defenses.
In general, many of Arsenal's midfielders have played various roles this offseason, namely Wilshere, who has basically played every midfield role this season. That versatility is why the Gunners remain atop the table despite a litany of injuries to overcome.
And if Cazorla's performance against Fulham was a sign of things to come down the stretch, well, Arsenal will be quite difficult to bully off the top of the table. Last year's most valuable Gunner showed he still has plenty of magic left in him for this season.