The reality of Santi Cazorla’s talent is that the Arsenal boss could easily play him at full-back or as a forward, however it was his ability in midfield which set him apart for this writer today as Arsenal just squeezed past Crystal Palace.
Palace pressed so well in the first half it was quite surprising to see Arsenal 2-0 up after 45 minutes and if truth be told the Gunners were lucky to be ahead, with their first goal coming from a penalty, which was questionably a free-kick and Julian Speroni’s parry falling neatly for Olivier Giroud.
Arsenal’s midfield found it difficult to find space throughout the game due to Palace’s brilliant pressing game, which disrupted their cross-London rivals for much of the tie.
Despite this kind of harassing, it was the uncelebrated side of Cazorla’s game which stood out to this writer. He is often applauded for his assists and his goals but the way he gave Arsenal an outlet in midfield today cannot be understated.
Other sides would have felt suffocated and lacked a creative element to their team under such pressure but Cazorla, like all the greatest players, found space and time in a game where there seemingly was none.
To discount the players around him would be unfair, with Alexis Sanchez and Coquelin in particular having a big impact in fighting back against the Eagles.
Cazorla proved the difference in midfield though. He exquisitely kept the ball in tight spaces, which in-turn gave Sanchez, Danny Welbeck and Giroud a chance of going through on goal.
The 30-year-old Spanish international will come under much more praise than is likely to come his way today as the Gunners were largely unconvincing, despite the scoreline. It wasn’t a horrid performance but it certainly wasn’t what we have come to expect from Wenger’s side.
This said, it can’t be undervalued what the magician in the middle brings to the north London club. His wizardry will be needed for ties against Everton and QPR up next, but more importantly so against Manchester United and West Ham after that.
Some will say Arsenal were lucky today, and maybe they were with Glenn Murray heading off the post in virtually the last moment of action, but Cazorla’s presence in midfield was one of the factors the Gunners ended up not being overrun in midfield, such is his ability to find space and more importantly a teammate with intelligent passing.
This article features the uncelebrated side to Cazorla’s game but one must also give credit to him for expertly tucking away the Gunners’ penalty early on in the game, which in the end was a deciding factor and well-deserved considering all the thankless, but effective work he did for his side this afternoon.
Featured image By ChristalPalace (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons.