Arsenal Football Club have officially announced the signing of Santiago Cazorla from Malaga FC. In a summer, where every other deal has been nothing short of a soap opera, the Gunners have captured arguably the best player in Spain playing outside the top two. With United splashing the cash on Kagwa and Chelsea bringing in Hazard, Arsenal have now made a big name signing of their own.
Arsene Wenger always had a liking for Spanish talents, and after the unsuccessful chase of both Juan Mata and even Cazorla last summer he finally got his man this year. Malaga initially wanted to repel any offers for their star man pointing out the 45 million release clause. But with the Qatari owners leaving the club with debts and worrying finances, Arsenal tried their luck once more.
For a knock down price of around 13 million with add-ons, thanks to Malaga’s economic troubles, Cazorla could be one shrewd bit of business. The signing of Cazorla is a signal of intent from Arsenal who look to end their trophy drought by posing a serious challenge for the league title. THT takes a closer look at the Spanish play-maker and what he could add to Arsenal.
Santiago Cazorla Gonzalez was born in Asturias and spent most of his youth career at local club Real Oviedo showing exemplary vision and technical ability drawing the attention of Villareal at almost 18 years of age. At Villareal the diminutive midfielder spent his first couple of seasons in the B team, slowly progressing and impressing the coaching staff with his passing and dribbling skills. By the end of the 2003-04 season, while Arsenal were finishing the campaign unbeaten, Cazorla was making his first team break.
Santi Cazorla was a first team regular in 2004-05, appearing 40 times for the Yellow Submarines. The 2005-06 season however turned out to be less fruitful, as Cazorla injured himself for a lengthy layoff, following which he found himself lower down the pecking order. The situation was closely monitored by Recreativo Huelva, as they made a cheeky bid for the player. Villareal accepted the offer with the clause that the player could return to the club for a small amount(believed to be 1 million).
Cazorla went on to make 34 appearances for Recreativo helping the club finish 8th, winning the Don Balon award in the process. Villareal bought him back the very next season and in his second spell for the Yellow submarines Cazorla made over 100 appearances, helping the club clinch a European spot in every single season. He also famously rejected a move to Real Madrid in 2008 in favor of first team football at Villareal. In 2011, with debts rising Villareal knew they had to sell one of their better players and decided Cazorla was the one.
Malaga bought the midfielder, who later helped them finish fourth and thus qualify for the Champions League. His stock rose over the course of the season, and had a number of clubs showing genuine interest in the player. The situation got compounded by Malaga’s financial troubles, and after fielding calls from various clubs Arsenal had their offer accepted after inquires from Chelsea, Tottenham and other clubs.
At international level Cazorla was called for the playoff matches for the Athens Olympics in 2004. He was capped 7 times at the Under-21 level but didn’t score a single goal. He made his debut for the senior side as a 24-year-old, after the then Spain boss Luis Aragones surprisingly included him for the European Championships of 2008. He made his debut against Peru, and went on to make substitute appearances in each of the matches in Austria Switzerland except in the semi final. His first goal for La Roja came in a 3-0 win against Chile where he scored from outside the box thanks to a deflection.
The new Arsenal signing couldn’t travel to South Africa and thus missed out on a World Cup medal after being diagnosed with hernia midway through the 2009-10 season. He later returned in the national team fold in 2011 and was a part of the winning Euro winning Spain squad. Santi has a total of 45 international caps for Spain, scoring six times.
Short yet well stocked, Santi Cazorla is the typical Spanish midfielder, standing only 5′ 6″ tall. Everything that he lacks in physicality, he makes up with his technical supremacy. A versatile midfielder, Cazorla played everywhere across midfield last season for Malaga., including 7 games as defensive midfielder. Apart from his adaptability, the former Malaga man can boast of some of the best passing stats of last season.
Cazorla had the third highest number of passes(1037) in the final third last season in La Liga, after Xavi(1101) and Messi(1303). Having said that he did make more key passes per game(2.2) than Xavi(2.1) and the fifth-highest in Spain. His passing range is impressive too, as his long-range accuracy would testify. Only Xabi Alonso(9.3) and Roberto(9.4) completed more long passes per game than Arsenal’s new recruit who averaged 7.4 per game himself. Santi prefers shooting on sight and thus attempts numerous long-range efforts. Of the 9 goals he scored last season, 8 were struck from outside the box.
Crossing is one of Santi’s fundamental strengths as he has spent most of his career on the wings, playing there 19 times last season. His crossing accuracy of 1.6 per game is the third highest in Europe’s top 5 leagues after Jesus Navas(2.2) and Antonio Valencia(1.7). He converts 29.3% of his crosses, which is an extremely impressive number.
As if he didn’t have enough qualities already, he is also ambidextrous to the point where he can take free kicks with both feet, which in turn brings us to his dead ball skills. Be it beating Iker Casillas at the far post or scoring the most direct free kicks across the top leagues in Europe, Cazorla’s dead ball abilities are unquestioned. His low gravity point and short backlift make him highly unpredictable with the ball. His defensive contribution is a huge attribute as he works his socks off, both on and off the ball. Last season he recovered possession 4.8 times per game making him a priceless commodity.
Santi Cazorla possesses great close control, thus drawing a lot of fouls. He also makes 1.3 dribbles per game, which is second only to Gervinho(1.4) in the Arsenal squad. His dribbling doesn’t catch the eye enough, and that might be down to his tendency to hold onto the ball often, preferring layoffs and showing impressive link up play.
With such a complete package as Cazorla’s weaknesses are few and far to find. Yet there are some glaring(read unexpected) weaknesses in Santi’s game. To start with his finishing leaves a lot to be desired. However impressive that stat may look, the flip side to Cazorla having 8 goals out of 9 from outside the box, is that his close range finishing isn’t great. Another area of his game that might appear weak is losing possession.
He got dispossessed 2.4 times per game over the course of last season. At Arsenal he would hope to change that, especially with the host of pacy counter-attacking teams in England. Other than that, his number of assists might appear to be low but by no means is that worrying. It can easily be accounted to the finishing of the attacking players considering the high number of key passes Santi makes.
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What Will He Add To Arsenal?
A marquee signing, and probably the second of the season after Podolski, the signature of Cazorla hints at a strong wave of confidence coming out of the Grove. The presence of the 27-year-old Spaniard will add imagination and variety to Arsenal’s attack, and somehow make the team less predictable. The greatest asset of Cazorla is his passing. Through balls, long balls, diagonals, short passes, layoffs, you name it and he has got it.
His already well enhanced link up play will help him settle into the Arsenal system easily. With the departure of Robin van Persie looming large, there was a prospect of there being no dead ball specialists at the club minus Arteta. Now with the capture of Cazorla, Arsenal seem well equipped in the free kick department too. Also with injuries to Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky along with the injury prone Diaby, Arsenal appeared lightweight in midfield heading into the start of the season.
Now with Cazorla in the ranks, those problems would be addressed as he would likely be the nucleus of Arsenal’s attacks and Wenger’s plans. Cazorla started each of Malaga’s league matches last season and his fitness and longevity could serve the club extremely well considering the number of injury crises Arsenal have faced in the past three-four seasons.
His biggest and most valuable aspect remains his versatility. Wenger will make the final call but atleast in Cazorla he has a player who can just fit into any shape and system he wishes to play. The final formation will depend a lot on Theo and Robin’s futures at the club. In the event that both leave, Cazorla can operate behind the striker(Giroud) with Gervinho/Podolski and Chamberlain/Gervinho playing as wing forwards.
He can also start on the right-wing, with either Chamberlain/Diaby starting behind the striker. In case Theo stays, Cazorla would most definitely play behind the striker in an advanced midfield role. He could also deputize for Theo/Podolski in case of an injury. If both Robin and Theo stay, it could be a real selection headache for Wenger. Either he chooses to play Robin alone upfront with Cazorla behind him and 2 of Theo/Gervinho/Ox/Podolski on the wings, or he could play Giroud upfront with Robin in the hole and Santi competing for one of the wing positions.
Cazorla also has a winning mentality and some big match performances to his name, which will add a different dimension to the team and also make him a figure younger players will look upto. In 38 games, Santi won 10 man of the match awards, scoring 9 goals and making 5 assists. No wonder his Villareal teammates called him “our Ronaldinho”. A two-time European championship winner, Cazorla could pass on a few words of wisdom to the less experienced members at Arsenal.