Cazorla central to Arsenal's charge

Posted by Sam Limbert

While many Arsenal fans hoped for a repeat of the midweek performance on Saturday at Swansea, the same 2-0 scoreline from the win at Bayern Munich was extremely welcomed by supporters. Rather than scoring early, Arsenal instead had to work hard to break the deadlock at the Liberty Stadium.

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When the opening goal eventually came in the 74th minute, it was a surprise to see Nacho Monreal apply the finishing touch -- but it wasn't a shock to see Santi Cazorla heavily involved in the build-up. His weaving run with the ball into the box created the space in the middle for Olivier Giroud, who eventually teed up Cazorla's former Malaga teammate to find the bottom corner.

The run epitomized the game Cazorla had, and his presence back in behind the main striker could be vital to Arsenal's attempt to get back into the Champions League next season.

In the absence of Lukas Podolski, Cazorla hasn’t been quite as effective playing from the left-hand side. He hasn’t played badly and still contributed with important goals against Sunderland and Aston Villa; however, he's at his best when given the baton to conduct the Arsenal performance from the centre.

What was particularly noticeable on Saturday was how Cazorla buzzed around the pitch, much as he did when he first signed with the club. Unsurprisingly for a player new to the Premier League, he has had a slight lull this season, but he looks to be back to his best in time for the season run-in.

When he got the ball, he was constantly getting his head up, looking to beat the man in front of him or looking to play a forward pass. As the possession statistics showed, Swansea had the ball plenty, so when Arsenal did win it back, they had to use it well. Instead of turning away and passing backwards, Cazorla looked keen to drive Arsenal forward.

He also appeared to have his appetite back for shooting from distance. It's a long-running -- and sometimes unfair -- criticism that Arsenal doesn't shoot from outside the box. Arguably that can be a sign of desperation, but that’s not the case with Arsenal’s Spanish maestro. To see him willing to shoot with both his left and right foot shows he has regained his confidence.

To exemplify how crucial Cazorla was to Arsenal's attacking on Saturday, you only have to look at the statistics. He had the highest number of Arsenal shots with four, key passes with five and successful dribbles with five. Everything that was good went through Cazorla.

As with the first goal in Munich, his reverse pass when under pressure in the build-up to Gervinho’s goal was influential in creating space for others.

I'd like to have seen Tomas Rosicky get more playing time this season. After 2011-12, he can rightly argue his best position is also in behind the striker. However, Cazorla has that spark to create something from nothing that only the very best players have.

His attacking Saturday, backed up by another solid defensive performance, have given Arsenal fans renewed hope for the rest of the season. It's a shame it's taken so long to seemingly stumble on a successful defensive formula, but it’s not too late for it to get Arsenal in the Champions League.

The confidence shown by Cazorla is spreading throughout the squad, with even the much-maligned Aaron Ramsey and Gervinho making great contributions from the bench.

Arsenal are looking like more of a team, but you need some quality individual players to make the difference in tight games. Judging on Saturday’s performance, Cazorla is setting himself up to make that difference in the remaining nine league games.

Statistics from whoscored.com

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