Classy Cazorla, the man who made Arsenal forget about Fabregas
21:29 GMT, 22 September 2012
The long list of Arsenal exiles is familiar not just to supporters. Even new signings at the club are well used to enquiries about the departures of Robin van Persie, Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Gael Clichy and Alex Song. And the seven-year wait for redemption in the form of a trophy is also a recurring lament.
So when the question comes, Santi Cazorla is well prepared. Arsenal take on Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium in what will be seen as a reality check for their early-season optimism. Can a club who have been shedding star players at the rate Arsenal have be truly competitive, especially against the Premier League champions with an unlimited budget
Little master: Santi Cazorla has made big impression
‘Well, it’s clear that City can spend lots of money on transfers and so have a very powerful team,’ says Cazorla. ‘But Arsenal, within their means, have also been putting together a very good squad over the last two years, so we have a good group and it’s clear we now want to change that dynamic of not winning anything.’
‘Dinmica’ is the word he uses in Spanish and the literal translation seems a little formal. It is undoubtedly correct, though, the nub of the problem for Arsene Wenger’s sides. They have had good teams, not least in 2010, when they will surely long rue the four-week period in which they lost the Carling Cup final, were knocked out of the Champions League, FA Cup and effectively conceded the league title as a defining moment.
But those failures, the inability to convert title chances, convinced the likes of Fabregas and Van Persie that Wenger’s project was flawed. That summer Nasri and Clichy went to the opponents, City, Fabregas to Barcelona and Van Persie has now followed to Manchester United, all seemingly concluding the league could not be won with Arsenal.
On the ball: Cazorla will face a big test at Manchester City
Cazorla, though, offers fresh hope. ‘Well, I believe it was a number of things [that caused them to switch teams]: they had good offers and, in the end, they decided to change teams. I believe that things are positive at Arsenal, that we are capable of fighting with those teams. Of course, Arsenal haven’t won anything for many years but I believe that Arsenal always show passion and are a team of winners.
‘We want to challenge for the title, hopefully. The objective is to fight for it. It’s clear there are lots of great teams, not just City — there are also Manchester United, Liverpool, despite the fact they haven’t started so well, Tottenham, Chelsea. There are a lot of teams challenging, no The objective is to win it and be there fighting right until the end, to have the chance of winning it.’
One of the key reasons why this may be more than the usual fighting talk is Cazorla himself. Lukas Podolski has made a huge early impression and the form of last season’s recruits, Per Mertesacker and Mikel Arteta has been hugely significant but none has the transformative ability of Cazorla on a game.
Wenger usually blanches when comparisons are made with Fabregas, so highly does he regard his former player. With Cazorla, he has no such reticence. ‘He is that player,’ says Wenger. ‘He has that quality.’
Cazorla, himself, resists praise. The Arsenal staff have already noted he is always smiling and he seems an unlikely personality in the sometimes brutal world of football. He has said in the past that he is sometimes too innocent in his dealings with people and he seems exceptionally open and amicable.
Class act: Santi Corzola (bottom row, far left) with his Oviedo youth team-mates, including new Swansea striker Michu (centre bottom)
His instinctive modesty was nurtured in the small village of Lugo de Llanera, a rural enclave of around 2,000 inhabitants sandwiched between the cities of Oviedo and Gijn in Asturias, northern Spain, where, as a child, he met his partner, Ursula Santirso, with whom he has a two-year-old son.
Perhaps it is due to the
fact that he has only now, at the age of 27, been recruited by one of
Europe’s major teams. win.
‘Arteta and Cazorla would play in many other countries and in Spain they don’t because they have Iniesta, they have Busquets, they have Xavi and they don’t have a chance,’ said Wenger. ‘Even Fabregas is not always playing. It’s not a coincidence they have so many players like that. It’s down to the way they educate their players, a concentration on technique.’
Another, David Silva, will be opposing him and still another, Juan Mata, next weekend when Chelsea come to The Emirates.
The common thread among all those players, apart from ability, is their size, or rather lack of it. Cazorla is the smallest of them all, at under 5ft 6in and 10st 7lb.
But he is blas about the issue. ‘I don’t see an advantage, nor a disadvantage. Ultimately football is played with the ball and isn’t dependent on your height or strength. In Spain there are strong players as well, as in all leagues. The Premier League is characterised by its physicality but I’m adapting very well so it’s not much of a change.’
Wenger appreciates the link the team now has between midfield and the final third and Cazorla himself has spoken about his delight at being asked to play such a pivotal role, rather than the wide position which he had expected to play. Though he is said to marginally favour his right foot, he is equally at home on either.
Right now he is settling into London life, moving house this week, finally leaving the hotel in which he has lived since his move, another step on the road to establishing himself here.
‘That’s really important for the family, for my boy,’ he said. ‘London is good, very different to Spain, but very good. Little by little I’m getting to know it better and the people have really welcomed me.’
Quietly, against a background noise that suggested imminent crisis, Wenger and his staff have been rebuilding the team that fell apart. Of the starting XI against Montpellier in midweek, seven were not with the club 15 months ago.
‘The boss has made lots of changes,’ said Cazorla. ‘We have a good squad and I think we can be optimistic about fighting for titles.’
This week will go some way to testing that but with Cazorla they have grounds for optimism.