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Moving Santi Cazorla to the Centre Was Critical to Arsenal's Crystal Palace Win

James McNicholas@@jamesmcnicholasFeatured ColumnistAugust 17, 2015

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 16: Santi Cazorla of Arsenal celebrates victory with Petr Cech of Arsenal after the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Arsenal at Selhurst Park on August 16, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images

A minor tactical tweak helped Arsenal overcome Crystal Palace in their Premier League clash. Having fielded Santi Cazorla on the wing last week against West Ham, Arsene Wenger shifted him back infield to a deep-lying central midfield role. His impact was extraordinary, as the Spanish star played a key role in helping Arsenal to a valuable three points.

There are those who will say it was folly to have ever considered moving Cazorla. Last season, his partnership with Francis Coquelin was absolutely integral to Arsenal’s resurgence. For most of his time with Arsenal, he had played on the left flank. However, an injury crisis prompted Wenger to move him into the middle.

Despite not having the most physical of styles, Cazorla flourished in the maelstrom of the midfield, tip-toeing away from the opposition with his balletic dribbling and instigating counter-attacks with incisive passing. Against West Ham, Arsenal badly missed his creative influence in the middle of the park. Having restored him to the central role against Crystal Palace, Wenger effectively admitted his mistake to Arsenal.com:

Cazorla is important in the start of the game when the ball comes from our defenders, because he can pass from deep midfield to high midfield better than everybody and get out of pressure. That’s why I positioned him more central. He is not any more a player on the flanks who can overlap and cross the ball.

It wasn’t broken, so Wenger should never have attempted to fix it. The Gunners boss has a nasty habit of tinkering with his team at the start of any new campaign—last season, he introduced an ineffective 4-1-4-1 system in an attempt to squeeze Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere into the same XI. It didn’t work, and Wenger was ultimately forced to return to the customary 4-2-3-1.

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LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 16: Santi Cazorla of Arsenal looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Arsenal on August 16, 2015 in London, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images

At least he seems to have acknowledged the error of his ways quicker this time around, correcting his mistake after just one league game. Cazorla has made himself absolutely invaluable to Arsenal in his redefined role. Mesut Ozil took a lot of the pundits’ plaudits after his mesmerising display in the Palace match, but he was only allowed to shine due to the fact that Cazorla was operating so effectively behind him. The Spaniard has the vision to pick out Ozil’s darts into space, affording him more time on the ball in dangerous areas.

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 16: Santi Cazorla of Arsenal arrives for the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Arsenal at Selhurst Park on August 16, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images

The one man who suffers from Cazorla taking centre-stage is Aaron Ramsey. The Welshman has been pushed back into the right-midfield role where he finished last season. It’s not ideal, but Ramsey seems willing to accept a measure of self-sacrifice to help the team’s overall balance. He told Arsenal.com:

It was the manager’s decision and he tweaked things around. He told me to try and get in between the lines, not stay outside, to come inside and I thought I did that by getting into some dangerous positions. Some of the combination play was really good and on another day we could’ve scored more.

Ramsey’s attitude is positive, but he must accept he has little choice in the matter. At the present time, the diminutive Cazorla is a huge presence in the centre of the Arsenal midfield. The Gunners now need to stick with this successful formula.

James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and is following the club from a London base throughout 2015/16. Follow him on Twitter here.

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