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Arsenal Man of the Match: Santi Cazorla

The Arsenal midfielder didn't score, but he did just about everything else.

Jamie McDonald

As Aidan wrote this morning, Arsenal's midfield was crucial to Saturday's 3-1 win against Fulham. Tomas Rosicky played fairly well, and Aaron Ramsey was about as good as we're coming to expect, though not as good as he's been lately. But neither one was the key to the plentiful offensive opportunities Arsenal were able to create at Craven Cottage.

While Ramsey was often the deepest midfielder of the three - both before and after the addition of Jack Wilshere - Cazorla was, in a way, more important in a defensive sense. Two reasons: first, Cazorla is typically quite good at retaining possession of the ball. As rebounding is a critical part of defense in basketball, ball retention after an interception or a tackle is a critical part of defense in soccer.

And Cazorla is an expert. His passing ability, even under pressure - maybe especially under pressure - is legend. But his touch and dribbling skill delivered him from peril almost as often. He changes the ball from foot to foot deftly and keeps it close, which allows him to change direction quickly and escape pressure from one, two, three opponents. Sometimes he suffers against larger and more physical defense, but his game was so tight Saturday that he was able to beat back everything Steve Sidwell and Scott Parker tried to do.

As an extension of that idea, he was instrumental in the counterattacking strategy that was so effective in creating offense for Arsenal. Cazorla's outlet passes started several attacks, and he played parts later in the second and third Arsenal goals; the pass that led to Theo Walcott's shot before Lukas Podolski's first, then the run into the box and subsequent pass to Podolski for his second.

The final statistics show that Santi Cazorla had one assist, but he was more integral than that. He helped preserve midfield shape and protected possession, and in addition to supplying one goal he had pre-assists for the first and second Arsenal goals. He was the 1A on a day that had a lot of #1 performances.