The football headlines every January and July seem to be dominated by the big money signings that wind their way along gold-encrusted pavements to Stamford Bridge and the Etihad Stadium these days, but in North London there are some wise heads whispering in huddled groups about a player who could turn out to be the best Premier League bargain for some time.
Spain winger Santi Cazorla has managed to endear himself to Arsenal fans already with some imperious performances in the early stage of this season. Possessed of strength and skill, and equally adept with both right and left foot, it seems Gunners manager Arsene Wenger has picked up another great player for next to nothing yet again. At 27, Cazorla is perhaps not a typical Wenger signing, but that matters little to those he has impressed so far.
Although the Arsenal defence and attack may not be strong enough to challenge for the Premier League title, the midfield is surely every bit as good, if not better, than many of their rivals. With the likes of Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere, Abou Diaby and Aaron Ramsey, among others, looking to play in the centre, it may be that Cazorla ends up playing most of his football on the left wing in the coming months.
But a player as versatile as the 5ft 6in Spaniard is likely to be used all across the midfield at some point or another. Given Arsenal’s capacity to sustain serious injuries, it would take a brave man to bet on where the former Malaga player finally ends up in most games. One thing is for sure, a fit Wilshere, Arteta and Diaby in the centre and Cazorla and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the flanks will be enough to scare most teams.
Santiago Cazorla Gonzalez was born in Llanera, north-west Spain in 1984, and made his name with Villarreal. He is approaching the 50-cap mark for his country, a sure sign of the winger’s ability. At present, with Spain having won Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and recently Euro 2012, a player must be very special to get into double figures for La Roja, and perhaps it is this that speaks most to Cazorla’s pedigree.
His transfer to the Emirates was, like most Arsenal signings, a long drawn-out affair fed by rumour and counter-rumour. Dragging on for several weeks, the player was in no doubt that he wanted to make the switch, making it quite clear to anyone who would listen that he was desperate to play for Wenger. After a “will he won’t he” saga through the summer, he was finally declared an Arsenal player on 7th August.
As is always the case with the rather secretive Gunners, no official announcement has been made about the exact fee involved, but sources put it at somewhere between £13M and £16.5M. Either way, in a world in which some rather average midfielders have been changing hands for £20M-plus, it would perhaps be fair to say that Cazorla already looks to be something of a steal.
Among the most impressive aspects of his game are his remarkably quick feet; he showed against Liverpool in the Premier League recently that he can easily manoeuvre his way out of trouble and into space on several occasions. The Spaniard linked well with Lukas Podolski for both Arsenal’s goals in the 2-0 win and worked his socks off throughout the game. Arsenal fans will be pleased to note that he is mostly artist, but there is a generous serving of artisan in there as well.
Given Arsenal’s robust August performance at Stoke (a 0-0 draw), traditionally a place where they tend to whither and accept surrender, it would appear that Wenger has, perhaps with the help of new assistant manager Steve Bould, brought in a steely underbelly to the side over the summer. But the likes of Cazorla will still be there to continue Wenger’s commitment to what he still likes to think of as the beautiful game.
The identikit of the ultimate Premier League midfielder would undoubtedly feature the vision of a Michael Ballack, the pace of a Michael Owen and the feet of a Michael Flatley; Santi Cazorla has so far ticked all the right boxes and the red half of North London will hope he continues to excite as the campaign progresses. Needless to say, a handful of exceptional performances don’t add up to a great season, but it has certainly been a good start for Arsenal’s newest Spaniard.