Amongst all the predictable negativity surrounding Arsenal’s uninspiring opener against Sunderland, the audacious performance of their latest Spanish recruit, the diminutive Santi Cazorla, provided the only silver lining.
A friend in the know had given me a heads up before kick-off, claiming that he hadn’t been so excited about a Gunners signing since the arrival of Dennis Bergkamp in 1995. This was balanced by the usual polarity of opinion between Arsenal fans and the increasingly large contingent of cynics within the home support who had been quick to label Cazorla as another mediocre signing on Wenger’s part; a poor man’s Mata/Silva, who like the rest of the summer signings was not being pursued by any other major club. I was keen to see whether such high praise was warranted. Would Santi live up to the hype and emulate the heroics of Cesc, Arsenal’s most recent Spanish superstar and Captain fantastic or would he succumb to the same fate as José Antonio Reyes and Fran Mérida in peaking early before making a swift return to their homeland with their tail between their legs.
By far and away Arsenal’s best chance came following an uncharacteristically effective passage of play from Gervinho
The bad taste left in the mouth by RVP’s acrimonious departure a few days previously was just the platform for one of the new boys to shine. Aside from an early mix-up between Cazorla and Podolski, it was the Spaniard who created the majority of chances in the first half against a resilient Sunderland defence, with the German barely having any impact on the game. By far and away Arsenal’s best chance came following an uncharacteristically effective passage of play from Gervinho which teed Cazorla up for a well taken punt from the edge of the area.
Although palmed away by Simon Mignolet in goal, this attempt was reminiscent of Samir Nasri’s ideal shooting range and the player’s stocky physique and consistent ability to find space only furthered the similarities with the disgraced French midfielder. Cazorla scored 9 goals for Malaga last season, 8 out them coming from outside the area and this bodes well for a team deprived of imaginative goal scorers and who have just lost their principal free-kick taker. Unlike Gervinho and Walcott who repeatedly tried to unlock the Sunderland defence down the same avenues but with little success, Cazorla dictated play by drifting across the front line and providing Podolski with balls from a variety of angles.
There is definite cause for optimism in Cazorla’s apparent ability to carve up defences
As the players around him began to flag, Cazorla seemed unfazed by the disciplined organisation of the opposition. Perhaps the only criticism would be that he seemed fairly lightweight in the challenge and on more than one occasion whined to Chris Foy about frankly harmless tackles. His most impressive moment came in the dying moments of the game as he threaded a superb diagonal pass to fellow new-arrival Olivier Giroud, who missed a golden opportunity to take all three points. Although the Frenchman’s miss stole the headlines and was portrayed as the first indication of the post-Van Persie era, there is definite cause for optimism in Cazorla’s apparent ability to carve up defences.
Following the game, Wenger was quick to praise the midfielder’s contribution:
“He played very, very well. And he looks like one of the buys of the season.
He has everything you want. He can play short, play long, right, left, can play the final ball and works hard as well. He is a fighter. It’s very positive.”
The reaction in the press to Cazorla’s performance was equally positive and the most ringing endorsement came from The Sun who suggested that Cazorla will probably feature on Barcelona/ United/ City’s shopping list when the transfer window re-opens in January.
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