Arsenal’s signing of Santi Cazorla last summer should have been a statement of intent, and in some way it was. The Spaniard’s capture was a show of strength in the transfer market that didn’t need to be fuelled by outside investment. It was the signing of a superstar that wouldn’t look out of place in any of Arsene Wenger’s title-winning teams.
There was a mistake, though. Cazorla’s arrival seemed to go half way to replacing the void left by Cesc Fabregas. Here was a player who could offer similar, if not very close creative qualities. He was a central figure for his last two teams in Spain, helping Villarreal to an unbelievable second place finish in La Liga and securing Malaga their first outing into the Champions League. And that’s what Cazorla should be at Arsenal: the central figure, the talisman and the undisputed heartbeat of the team.
It was never realistic to assume Jack Wilshere would come back after 14 months out with injury and guide this Arsenal team to a respectable finish. Putting aside Wilshere’s injury history, his age alone and lack of experience should have been enough of an indication that it couldn’t be done.
It’s easy to look at Wilshere as the great hope for the future at Arsenal, and sometimes there are young players who come in and take control of a team in a way only special talents can. Cesc Fabregas did that for Arsenal as a teenager, but he grew up with Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires and many other veterans and natural leaders; that winning mentality and confidence that was such a prominent characteristic of those Arsenal teams rubbed off on Fabregas and allowed him to be a leader in the way he played the game.
Wilshere didn’t have that. He needs to learn how to be a winner and escape the disappointments of the past. For all his talents and perceived mental strength, it just doesn’t seem right at this time to build a team around him, even if that will be the case in the future.
Cazorla is the player Arsenal needed now, and someone who could help to continue in the style of play Wenger used during Fabregas’ time with the club. Cazorla, however, has been shuffled around in the attacking three, taken away from the spotlight in order to accommodate Wilshere and hasn’t completely won over everyone in the country. In fact, that shouldn’t matter. The disappointment is that in troubling times Wilshere is often seen as the only player good enough for this Arsenal team. There have been criticisms of Olivier Giroud, Thomas Vermaelen and even Mikel Arteta, and that’s fine. But Cazorla shouldn’t be lumped in with a group who are sometimes deemed expendable.
Here is a full international with Spain, a player who Real Madrid had tried to acquire on at least one occasion, and someone who undoubtedly played a part in helping Isco become the player he is now at Malaga. Cazorla would have been the one to take all the pressure off Wilshere until it was time for him to become Arsenal’s leader. The numbers don’t lie either, as Cazorla already has 12 goals and seven assists in the league, and the number in the assist column should be much higher too. Wilshere, on the other hand, has only recorded three assists in 18 starts in the league. It’s not to take anything away from the England midfielder, but Arsenal really do have a luxury that they’re not using to it’s fullest effect.
It may go hand-in-hand with the issue of formations and how to get the best out of Cazorla and the rest of the team, but there are goal scorers in this Arsenal team, and using the Spaniard from the flanks is only detrimental to the team’s overall product in front of goal. Similarly, Arsenal do not have the consistency of technicians in midfield that Malaga and Villarreal had. At La Rosaleda, Cazorla was regularly linked with Isco and Joaquin in midfield, while Jeremy Toulalan played in one of the anchoring roles. At Villarreal, Cani, Marcos Senna and Borja Valero were more than good enough to play the possession-based game.
It should have been seen as one of the most exciting signings of Wenger’s reign since moving into the Emirates. The fact that Cazorla arrived a year after Fabregas left should also have done enough to generate excitement rather than just comparisons. Like at his previous clubs, this should be Cazorla’s team and he should be put forward as the leader of Arsenal on the pitch, at the very least in terms of attacking style.