5 Potential Replacements for Santi Cazorla at Arsenal

James McNicholas@@jamesmcnicholasFeatured ColumnistJanuary 4, 2017

5 Potential Replacements for Santi Cazorla at Arsenal

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    Arsene Wenger may have to accept the need to find a long-term replacement for Santi Cazorla.
    Arsene Wenger may have to accept the need to find a long-term replacement for Santi Cazorla.GLYN KIRK/Getty Images

    It wouldn’t be a Premier League season without Arsenal undergoing some sort of injury crisis. The real surprise is the area where the Gunners are suffering—at the start of this campaign, central midfield appeared the strongest part of their squad.

    In fact, there was so much depth and quality at Arsene Wenger’s disposal that he elected to loan Jack Wilshere to Bournemouth. However, an injury for Francis Coquelin in Arsenal’s match against the Cherries has left them with just two fit central midfielders—Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka.

    The reason they’re so depleted is that Mohamed Elneny is representing Egypt at AFCON 2017, while Santi Cazorla is recovering from a troubling Achilles problem.

    Cazorla is undoubtedly the man they miss most. It’s the Spaniard who really makes Arsenal tick, dictating play from the base of the midfield. Without him, they’re not quite the same side. The likes of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil may be more celebrated, but Cazorla is just as important to his side's chances.

    Publicly, Wenger has dismissed the idea that he will recruit another midfielder this winter. He said, per Sky Sports:

    "In midfield we have many players, but there's two reasons. We have the numbers in quality. Secondly, in January, you wouldn't necessarily find a Cazorla even if you wanted to."

    Wenger’s hesitance is understandable—January is a notoriously difficult time to buy. However, he may soon decide that he has little choice.

    If Wenger is forced, reluctantly, into the market, a replacement for Cazorla will surely figure high on his wanted list. The Spaniard is 32 and injuries are beginning to take a worryingly regular toll. Arsenal miss him desperately when he’s not there, so they need someone who can take up that playmaking mantle on a more permanent basis.

    In this piece, we identify five potential replacements for Cazorla and discuss the plausibility of a move in this transfer window.

Marco Verratti

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    Marco Verratti in action against Arsenal earlier this season.
    Marco Verratti in action against Arsenal earlier this season.MB Media/Getty Images

    Arsenal fans do not need too much education on the talents of Marco Verratti—they got to see the Italian strut his stuff up close in two Champions League ties this season.

    Verratti is a purist—a midfielder dedicated to immaculate keep-ball, refusing to take the pragmatic option. He shares Cazorla’s aesthetic vision of what a modern midfielder ought to be.

    Speaking to Jason Burt of the Telegraph, Verratti confessed:

    A lot of the time I am told to clear the ball, kick it out, ‘degager le ballon’ they shout, but I can’t do that and if I have to do that then it feels like a defeat for me.

    I don’t know how to do it. I never get rid of the ball that way and when I am watching TV and I see players who do get rid of the ball then I don’t accept it. I know each player’s got a different style. But that’s not my style. I will never change. I’d rather not play football at all than have to change my style.

    Such a puritanical point of view might worry Arsenal fans who value winning above attractive football, but it seems a neat fit for Arsene Wenger’s coaching philosophy. 

    Taking a player from cash-rich PSG would never be easy, but perhaps Wenger could capitalise on the unrest Verratti displayed after being withdrawn against Marseille back in October, per the Mirror.

Miralem Pjanic

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    Miralem Pjanic has impressed in both Ligue 1 and Serie A.
    Miralem Pjanic has impressed in both Ligue 1 and Serie A.AK Bijuraj/Getty Images

    Emanuele Giulianelli of The Sun reported that Arsenal are set to offer Juventus £28 million for their creative midfielder Miralem Pjanic. He wrote: "Arsene Wenger has called Juventus midfielder Miralem Pjanic to ask him if he would like to join Arsenal. The Bosnian midfielder has answered with enthusiasm, and the two are working toward a verbal agreement."

    Pjanic has likely been on Wenger’s radar for some time, having starred in Ligue 1 with Metz and Lyon before switching to Serie A and Roma. However, this window is surely not the time to bring him to north London.

    The Bosnia and Herzegovina playmaker only joined Juventus a matter of months ago, and with their move to sign Axel Witsel now dead it’s highly unlikely they’d allow a prized midfielder to leave halfway through the campaign.

Vincent Koziello

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    Vincent Koziello in action for French table-toppers Nice.
    Vincent Koziello in action for French table-toppers Nice.Romain Perrocheau/Getty Images

    French outlet Le10 Sport (h/t the Express) claimed in October that Arsene Wenger is tracking 21-year-old Frenchman Vincent Koziello.

    Koziello has been a key part of Nice’s unlikely title challenge in Ligue 1, making 13 league appearances for Lucien Favre’s side this season. He’s a well-rounded midfield player, as comfortable winning the ball back as distributing it himself.

    Nice are enjoying a fantastic campaign, but they're hardly giants of European football. If Arsenal wanted Koziello, they could probably get him. However, as a relatively inexperienced player it’s unclear if he’s truly good enough to inherit Santi Cazorla’s place in the side.

Sergi Samper

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    Sergi Samper's new Barcelona deal does contain a release clause.
    Sergi Samper's new Barcelona deal does contain a release clause.Aitor Alcalde Colomer/Getty Images

    Sergi Samper signed a new contract with Barcelona last year. However, with his loan spell at Granada failing to ignite his career as expected, it’s possible he could become restless.

    With Cesc Fabregas and Hector Bellerin having shown how a career can progress after switching from the Camp Nou to north London, Arsenal might try to tempt Samper to become the latest Barcelona academy product to switch allegiances.

    Arsenal have been trailing Samper for some time—Pete Jenson of the Daily Mail reported on their interest back in July 2015—and it’s easy to see why. He is a midfielder in the classic Barcelona mould, dribbling nimbly between markers and showcasing a magnificent passing range.

    Barcelona have a proud tradition of bringing through academy players, and they would not want to lose Samper. However, they may have little choice: According to Toby Gannon of The Sun, Samper’s new deal contains a £42 million release clause.

    At that price, Samper would be a huge gamble. However, he appears to be a player with the technical pedigree to replace Santi Cazorla.

Joe Allen

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    Joe Allen could be a surprise candidate to replace Santi Cazorla.
    Joe Allen could be a surprise candidate to replace Santi Cazorla.Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images

    Jack Pitt-Brooke of The Independent believes there is a player operating in the Premier League who could slot seamlessly into Santi Cazorla’s role in the Arsenal team—Wales international Joe Allen. Pitt-Brooke wrote:

    If [Arsenal] want a midfielder who can control the game from the middle, take the ball in tight spaces and play incisive passes, but who already knows the Premier League, there may be an answer at Stoke City.

    Joe Allen has shone since joining Stoke from Liverpool in the summer but he showed at Euro 2016 that he can play at the highest level. Jurgen Klopp was not the right manager for him but Wenger would be. Allen’s clever passing style make him a more natural fit for Wenger’s Arsenal than his compatriot Aaron Ramsey, whose high energy running looks strangely out of place now in this team. 

    It’s certainly true that Ramsey and Allen have worked effectively in tandem at international level, and there’s every chance they could replicate that if deployed together in a club side.

    The suggestion that Arsenal replace Cazorla with Allen will be scoffed at by many Gunners fans. However, Pitt-Brooke does make an interesting case—Allen is not as skilful as Cazorla, but he is an intelligent manipulator of the ball.

    Allen only arrived at Stoke last summer, so they’d be highly unlikely to let him leave this January. However, when a club of Arsenal’s size comes calling for a player outside of the Premier League elite, they invariably get what they want.