Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people, and Santi Cazorla’s mind transcends the lot. The diminutive Spaniard is a magician performing his magic in-front of a mesmerised audience, tantalising not only those who are equally baffled as they are in awe of his talents from the stands, but opposition and teammates alike who are yet to figure out the deception behind his mastery. The magician has found himself victim of his own class, incapable of being dropped from a starting XI, his prowess has become his downfall in consecutive seasons, and with it, the Gunners demise. Is this bad management or is this demise a illusory trick from the midfield maestro, leading media and fans alike to find a source of comfort for the stuttering Arsenal?
Blessed with equally talent feet, a mind to hold captive his victims, the 32 year old is the oil of the Arsenal machine, in his absence, a stuttering engine begins to arise. Regardless of who the Spaniard is partnered with, he is a dictator of the game, a omniscient chess player moving the pawns around him as he seeks to expose the opposition’s queen. Deployed deep in the Gunner’s armoury, he is able to expand and constrict the game as he sees fit, a facilitator of excellence for whoever he is deployed next to. Take Francis Coquelin, a source of extreme ridicule from the Arsenal faithful, perceived as a limited destroyer who is fortunate to continually force his way back into Arsene Wenger’s visions. Rewind two years and you have a 30 year old Santi Cazorla spreading the class he exudes onto the Frenchman as they produce a masterclass at the Etihad. Coquelin reaps the rewards from the media, as the quiet facilitator blissfully goes about his business, silently assuring himself that he is the source of growth within a flourishing Gunner’s system. In his absence, Coquelin quite frankly looks like a lost puppy, wandering around pitches across Europe for 90 minutes on a weekly basis desperately trying to find his owner. It’s not just his own teammates the Spaniard has on a tight leash, it’s the opposition midfielders throughout the planet, with Gary Neville himself mocking World Cup winner Bastian Schweinsteiger, alluding to the fact Cazorla toyed with him in the 3-0 drubbing at the Emirates 18 months ago.
As majestic as the minuscule 32 year old is to watch, a compelling fact coincides with his absence in consecutive seasons. Santi Cazorla has missed the toughest run of fixtures the Gunner’s have faced two years on the trot. Statistics are often thrown around proving how integral the Spaniard is to the Arsenal side by comparing winning stats with his presence and in his absence, with, as you’d probably guessed, the win percentage being higher when his presence blessed the field of play. Yet, logic dictates that win percentage will surely be lower when, firstly, you play a higher proportion of games without him, and secondly, that the proportion of those games of which coincided with the toughest run of fixtures the Gunner’s faced in the season also being apparent. Therefore, whilst his absence is seemingly integral to the Gunner’s downfall, it appears that he has in fact involuntarily jumped ship at the convenient time in back-to-back seasons, a blessing in retaining the perception of omniscience he has rightfully earned, but detrimental to conclusively deciding whether his sustained periods on the timeline were as consequential on the Arsenal seasons as we are led to believe.
Despite that, naivety has become a mainstay of the mind of the football fan, looking for scapegoats and excuses to justify the inadequacies of a team, and for the Arsenal faithful, this excuse (in the midst of relentless Arsene Wenger abuse), derives from the Gunner’s number 19’s absence. So, is he the omniscient being the Gunner’s need back in the XI? Of course. Is he the catalyst of failure when a season of the 32 year old is stagnated? I’ll let you decide.