If Santi Cazorla’s importance to Arsenal football club wasn’t clear before this, it is now.
The Spaniard has arguably been the best player for the London outfit this season, and was instrumental in orchestrating the Gunners’ midfield prior to his injury.
Those same injuries have hampered Cazorla’s time with Arsenal, but when he is fit and firing one would struggle to find many better midfielders in Europe, such is his influence.
WhoScored’s Ben McAleer has put together a progress report on the 31-year-old since the start of last season, and his findings are fascinating.
From their results, it is painstakingly obvious how much Arsene Wenger is missing his key man at the moment, and whilst today’s opponents in Sunderland will not be most difficult team that Arsenal will play this season, he would have been warmly welcomed had Cazorla been able to shake off his problem.
Moussa Dembele and Yaya Toure are the only two players to have a better dribbling success rate than Cazorla out of the candidates who had made fifty or more attempts in that category since the beginning of the 2015/16 season.
He also had a better passing rate, on average, than any other Premier League player last season, while his ball retention for this campaign averages at 70 per game.
Meanwhile, Tom Adams of ESPN has also pointed out how essential Cazorla is to Arsenal’s free-flowing attack.
The match [against Middlebrough] brought into bold relief the influence that Cazorla has on Arsenal.
With the Spaniard missing due to an Achilles problem and Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey out due to suspension and injury respectively, the midfield combination of Mohamed Elneny and Francis Coquelin was too pedestrian.
Arsene Wenger also admitted that Cazorla’s absence is sorely felt.
“You always miss Cazorla at home,” he said. “From deep midfield into the final third, his pass is always quick, accurate.”
This perfect encapsulation of why Cazorla is so integral to Arsenal, coupled with the above statistics, truly means that the Gunners need him back, and quickly.
Callum Connolly, Pundit Arena.