The little Spaniard was everywhere at the Etihad, combining relentless running with cagey creativity as Arsene Wenger collected his first win against a top team in… ages, it felt like. And he has Santi Cazorla to thank for it.
Cazorla started centrally as part of a midfield three with Alexis Sanchez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and boy did he run the show. Evading the Fernandbros constantly, Cazorla was excellent in stifling the City attack as well, pressing and dispossessing Manuel Pelligrini’s attackers seemingly at will. He put Arsenal on the scoresheet, scoring the first goal and assisting French forward/model Olivier Giroud’s second.
He also did a little dance.
When Santi Cazorla is playing like he’s currently playing, an argument could be made that he is Arsenal’s best midfielder, and while I won’t be the one making it, I will posit that Santi IS their most versatile.
There’s just one problem, apparently. Santi Cazorla, Arsenal’s most versatile midfielder, is at his best when playing in the center, a trait he shares with Arsenal’s most talented midfielder, German playmaker Mesut Ozil.
Ozil has been at the club for eighteen months, missing four due to injury. In those eighteen months, he has gone from savior to surplus to requirements.
Time and again, Mesut has had to change his game and position so that Arsene Wenger can accommodate other midfielders. Sometimes, they make no sense, such as earlier in the season when Wenger shifted Ozil to the wing so that future England captain Jack Wilshire can play in the number 10 role. Shockingly, that didn’t work out so well.
This time, however, there appears to be a genuine problem: Cazorla’s spike in form has come at the expense of the German international. Playing in Ozil’s best, and quite possibly only, position on the field, he has been a crucial cog for Arsene Wenger.
So once again, Arsenal’s surplus of attacking players leaves them in a bind (imagine if they had also brought in Cesc Fabregas…). Once again, Wenger’s attempts to create a footballing utopia leaves him with an embarrassment of riches (and possibly a waste of £42.5 million).
Does it, though?
Another thing that the Arsenal performance on Sunday highlighted is that Arsenal are possibly better when they play the way they played against Manchester City. In that performance, Arsenal ceded possession to Manchester City and attempted to hit the Citizens on the counter. And it worked!
Incidentally, it is that system that Mesut Ozil thrives in.
A system of quick, counter-attacking football, the kind of system Wenger previously scoffed at, is precisely the system that would take full advantage of the talent he has at his disposal.
A team built around the speed of Alexis Sanchez, the hold up play of Olivier Giroud, the versatility of Santi Cazorla and the vision of Mesut Ozil is probably a better team than one that plays Wengerball.
Arsenal are usually touted as the Barcelona of the EPL. Maybe they’re better off as Real Madrid.