Santi Cazorla! Santi! Isn't he the best? He's the best. Let's begin.
Arsenal signed Santi Cazorla last August because he'd replace some of the creativity lost with the departure of Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie. Cazorla instantaneously impressed, playing a lovely through ball for Olivier Giroud that the Frenchman missed on the opening day of the season. His combination of sweet dribbling skills, passing and two-footed ability makes him one of the best creative players in the league, and he added a new-found goal-scoring ability as well. For large parts of the season, there was little doubt that he was Arsenal's best player, and, playing through the middle, most of Arsenal's best attacking moves went through Cazorla. There's lots of things to admire about Cazorla; he's a pretty good finisher, and he so rarely loses the ball under pressure, despite being small and looking quite easy to knock off the ball. He's a wonderful talent, and it was brilliant to watch him this season, and without him, Arsenal would've come nowhere near 4th. Yet, he can't do it all on his own; on the blog, I've often compared Cazorla to what we wanted Samir Nasri to become: a wide playmaker who makes good runs into the penalty box to score goals, and is less effective in the middle. Cazorla played very well in the middle, and has done so on many occasions for Spain, but he did seem more effective out wide, delivering match-winning performances during the run-in from out wide.
Santi Cazorla, to look at him, doesn't look like all that much - he doesn't look particularly strong, or fierce, or like someone who would dominate...anything, really. But you put him in a matching shirt with 10 other guys and put a ball at his feet and he's just that - dominant. I don't follow other leagues, so when Cazorla was signed from Malaga, my first reaction was "okay, sure, why not" - I always assume most everyone, particularly at a club like Arsenal, does far more due diligence than I do and knows way more about players than I, but I also know this is the club that signed Francis Jeffers once.
Needless to say, Santi Cazorla was one of Arsenal's best signings of the last couple years (which must infuriate the SPEND MORE MONEY brigade, a theme that yes, I am going to beat to death at every opportunity) - he played in every Premier League match last season, and while one player does not singlehandedly determine a club's destiny, without Cazorla Arsenal would have been far worse off. He's got great vision, he's a fantastic wing player, and he both provides assists (11 last season) and scores goals (12). He's not the complete package, but he's as close as Arsenal have to it; it's guys like Cazorla that make me think I should pay attention to other leagues every now and again, if only to be able to compile a wish list.
Santi Cazorla is awesome. His range of passing is something that Arsenal greatly missed in the gap between Cesc Fabregas' departure and his purchase last summer. His first touch is amazing, and his ability to escape pressure (most of the time) is enviable. He likes to shoot from outside the box, which I like generally, although I'll admit it wasn't all that effective for him this year. He's really good at soccer.
But I think his most helpful asset to Arsenal this year was his versatility. At times this year he played as a pure number 10, a deep playmaker, and a left winger. And he was effective at all three positions, which isn't really something you come along often. He's a small Spanish guy who came right into the Arsenal team and was probably our best player this year. Transfers like that don't happen often, especially for a relatively cheap fee.
I'm still a little stunned that Santi Cazorla happened to us. Stunned, and pleased.
Santi Cazorla amazes me. Leaving aside analysis of his passing, his positioning, and things like that (all of which are good, although he needs some assistance on the creativity front), it's Cazorla's technique that really stands out to me. Watching how he moves, how he dribbles, how he takes passes, the way that he can somehow emerge from a pack of defenders, his small stature sort of coming out from behind the shadows, is all very fun. He basically seems like nothing more out there than a sort of tiny battlebot designed to move a football around quickly and be sort of generally unflappable, and he seems this way from anywhere he wants, more or less. He played more minutes than anyone else on the team, played in every league match, and finished with a nifty 12 goals and 14 dimes. Especially given the modest fee, Santi has to go down as one of Wenger's better purchases for quite some time, but since it's not my money, the enjoyment is more than enough.
Santi Cazorla is a wonderful player. There are few players to whom the cliché "you couldn't get the ball off him in a phonebox" is more applicable. He's technically sublime and his dribbling and ambidexterity are magnificent. Not only that, but despite being shorter than a smurf who started smoking and drinking coffee at infancy, he has fantastic core strength and ability to fight off those near-twice his size* (*perhaps a mild exaggeration).
His first season at Arsenal was an extremely encouraging one. For much of the season he was the only proper creative outlet and this affected his form. It must be noted that he signed straight from holiday on August 7th, meaning the only pre-season he had was a segment of the game against Köln, following on from being at Euro 2012 right until its end. He was inconsistent and was crowded out in some bigger games, but this was mostly because teams knew that by stopping him, they stopped most of our forward play and so were able to focus more on doing so. His stats are very impressive but are aided by big contributions against weaker teams (see the hattrick vs Reading and the 4 assists vs Wigan). When he had a figure with whom to share the creative burden after being moved wide, he played with a greater freedom and productivity. Very much a catalyst for next season.
He is the Nasri replacement we missed last year - a creative wide player with a preference for dribbling - but unlike most of our replacements, he's a significant upgrade. Now we have to replace Cesc and the nameless Dutchman. Until then, here's my favourite chant of this season: I wish I was a little bit smaller; I wish I was Cazorla; I wish I was a rabbit in a hat footballer.
Grade: B - the (reasonable) lacking production in bigger games and inconsistency mean he doesn't get an A. The circumstances will hopefully conspire more in his favour next year.
Cazorla scored a delicious back-heel goal against West Ham from a great team move involving Giroud and Podolski. That itself warrants an A grade, but he did so much more for the team, it would be a crime not to shower more praise on him.
Twelve goals and sixteen assists in his first season in the EPL, as an advanced midfielder and with our ever-changing attacking front, you have to be impressed. I don't believe for one second that anyone predicted this, he's never had a season like this and while everyone was pleading for patience at the beginning of the season for Giroud and Poldi, Santi took the mantle as the creative fulcrum of the team. Amazing dribbler, excellent passer (of course, he's Spanish), better finishing than I could have imagined--long range goals, back-heels against West Ham, etc.
There's just no two ways around it, he was the best player on the team last year and one of the best in the league. As for midfielders, minus the flawless Juan Mata, Cazorla was easily the best at the position, and if he continues to improve, one can't be blamed for looking into the future with sparkly eyes.
AND FINALLY, BRACE YOURSELVES, TRAVIS:
The cold rain hit the pavement as I strode down the alley in the dark, damp London night. A singular exterior light, jutting out above an unmarked door shone valiantly against the cruel nature of a typical late fall night in a city accustomed to such dreariness. Ahead of me, two silhouettes, illuminated against the backdrop of the light, appear. A figure in a long trenchcoat stands over a man felled by a mystery only the night knows.
I approach the two, take a cigarette out of my pocket, light it, take a deep inhale and as the exhaled smoke carries away in the thick fog, I turn to the man standing, taking notes and observing the scene. At our two sets of feet, a man wearing an Etienne Capoue fanboy shirt and a Starbucks apron lay still, a smile forever on his face, with the calling card of the city's infamous serial killer in his right hand: a picture of two hands contorted to form a heart.
"I would have arrived earlier if she didn't walk out in her red dress, upset because I stayed late at the station instead of coming home," I said.
"Mi capacidad para salir de situaciones peligrosas con la pelota es inigualables," the short, dark haired man said with a toothy grin. He then, with both feet, managed to draw a perfect outline of the body and kicked up the chalk with a back heel that accurately placed it in his coat pocket.
"Yes, I know, but I think that if she understood the rigors of our job - my career - she would stay. Ever since I spotted her that night out, wearing those heels and thick, lucious lipstick covering her pouty lips, I thought we'd last forever.
And here I am, lonely on this rainy night, one of many consecutive nights in a row, wondering where we went wrong."
He placed an offering hand on my shoulder, looked up and solemly smiled. Then he continued to secure the scene. He scribbled notes with his left hand, then took his pencil in his right hand and wrote down notes with not a discrepancy in his penmanship.
He helicoptered the pencil a few feet above his head, let it fall with the thick, numerous raindrops and scissor kicked the utinsil hard towards the wall of the warehouse. The pencil stabbed through the tattered and torn Tottenham poster, an announcement proclaiming the sale of the newly-released DVD celebrating their 5th place finish.
The man grinned, pointed towards his paper target and looked down again at the lifeless man. He wiped away the rain from the man's face and said a quiet prayer for the deceased.
"Es agradableestar en un club que la paga el salario a tiempo, un club que yo y mis talentos aprecia," the man said.
He took a couple steps towards me, took out a camera and photographed the scene one more time. He walked away, and turned to me one last time. The short, cheerful man called out "buenos noches, la vida siempre va la mejorar," and disappeared.