Arsenal have still not got over the memories of the miniature maestro.
For a long time, Santi Cazorla and his diminutive stature papered over the giant cracks in the Arsenal midfield. His magic-like ball retention and ambidextrous ability made fans forget about the lack of cover and depth in the midfield department. Now they remember more than ever.
The dismay at the performances of Granit Xhaka only reiterates the vast absence of the Asturias-born midfielder. When you compare the averages per 90 in the pairs last completed seasons, the difference is startling.
The deep-lying midfielder from Basel doesn’t come close, lacking in all areas where you would want a central midfielder to perform. Stats such as chances created, successful passes, successful take-ons and interceptions show the gulf in quality between the duo.
His missing contributions have been evident in Arsenal’s form. As of February 2017, Arsenal collected 2.15 points per game opposed to the 1.7 without him since he joined in 2012. It is obvious that there is a huge correlation between Arsenal’s 6th-place finishes and the absence of Santi.
Cazorla has had ten operations on his achilles tendon, and is expected to sit out this season. In December, Arsene Wenger said: “He has to start from zero again. I was hopeful of January but after, he had this setback that everybody knows about.”
When asked when he could see Santi back, Wenger said not before February. We are in April now and we still have no sight of Cazorla. The signs are ominous but the Spaniard has a huge amount of perseverance.
Santi considered retirement but still has unfinished business at Arsenal. He is well aware of the damage that has ensued in his absence, and his joy of playing the game is incredibly clear. Just look at both in his smile and in the stands. The game doesn’t get much better when the ball is at his feet.
Santi said in January: “There have been moments when I’ve thought about throwing in the towel. I’ve thought about things like ‘maybe it is not worth continuing’.
“If things go well, maybe next year I can play at the top level again.”
At 33, his contract expires this summer. Arsene Wenger has already made it clear that the Spaniard will need to show his fitness at the top-level in order to extend his six-year stay.
To fulfil his hopes and end Arsenal fans frustration, Santi will need to perform more magic than ever.
Regardless of what happens, the little Spanish magician has left an enormous mark of wonder and enjoyment on the Emirates turf. And who knows, he may just have a tiny bit more to conjure up.
By Cameron Dhaliwal (@CameronDhaliwal)