Arsenal can rejoice as their very own Santi is delivering prized goods again
Cazorla in the middle improves the Gunners' fluency13:42 Monday 26 September 2016, 13:42 26 Sep 2016
When Arsenal's title challenge crumbled in the second half of last season, familiar failings were rightly blamed.
The lack of a truly potent goalscorer and the absence of a commanding centre-back were all rightly pointed out as issues.
But as many suggested at the time, the fact that Arsene Wenger was robbed of the chance to use Santi Cazorla in midfield due to injury was not insignificant.
Indeed, Arsenal looked visibly less fluent without the influence of the Spain international midfielder who is famed for being as two-footed as they come.
It was the second half of the 2014-15 season when Arsenal finished well that we really got to see the 31-year-old deployed as a central playmaker rather than wider or in the No 10 role where he had done well but had occasionally suffered the odd dip in form.
Moving from the periphery to the heart of play alongside Francis Coquelin proved a masterstroke with the first visible sign of its benefits coming in the 2-0 victory away at Manchester City when Arsenal had been expected to lose as they had so often done against the bigger teams in the Premier League.
In the first 14 matches of last season when Cazorla was involved, Arsenal won eight of their games and lost just three times. In the next 23 fixtures when he was absent with a serious knee injuries after late November, Arsenal's results didn't exactly drop off a cliff exactly but they appeared far less fluent in their build-up play.
If you look at their chances created, although the following figures can be explained away by more than just the presence or absence of Cazorla, Arsenal's chance creation per game rate dropped from 13.85 in the first games in which he played and dipped to 10.95 for the following 23 fixtures.
Arsenal's Santi Cazorla collides with Chelsea's Willian, right, during the English Premier League soccer match between Arsenal and Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium in London, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Indeed, despite missing pretty much the entire second half of the season, Cazorla was still the third highest chance creator for Arsenal, with Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez the only ones beating him. The more box-to-box Aaron Ramsey managed the same number of key passes and assists with a grand total of 37 despite playing in twice the number of games.
So if we swing over to this season and Cazorla was magnificent as Arsenal dismantled Chelsea, even though Ozil, Sanchez, Theo Walcott and the new centre half pairing of Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi made more of the post-match headlines.
He set the tone with the first long-range attempt of the fixture and although, he was not directly involved in the some of the major chances, he had more touches than any other player with 97 at the Emirates and managed just shy of 90% accuracy with his passes.
Actually, overall this season, the midfielder has average better than 90% on average during the campaign and was it a coincidence that Arsenal lacked a level of control against Liverpool in their opening day defeat?
He only played 30 minutes in that sole loss, coming on for the period when Arsenal scored twice to bring the scores back to 4-3. That included his free-kick which saw Calum Chambers head in and also was generously credited for the assist which resulted in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's run and finish.
Assists aside, Arsenal are just a better team when he is in there to dictate play behind Ozil and Sanchez, especially if it's alongside Coquelin, who appears set to face another injury absence.
Thus, with Granit Xhaka easing himself in well, another fruitful partnership could be open to Cazorla in the engine room.
The very best bits delivered every weekSubscribe now