Tag Archives: Santi Cazorla

Plucky 12-man Chelsea squeeze past nine-man Arsenal

STAMFORD BRIDGE—In a stirring display of tenacity, grit, and acumen, an undermatched and historically underfunded rag-tag collective of misfits bravely overcame all odds, drawing on every single ounce of moxie at its disposal in order to narrowly eke out a win that will be talked of through the ages. Despite never catching a single break in this match or in any other prior, and despite having to watch each and every halfpenny for decades. Chelsea’s dozen screwed their courage to the sticking spot and road Lady Luck’s coat-tails to victory over Arsenal’s nine. Never before and perhaps never again will we see one side overcome such short odds to achieve victory.

Alright, enough of that. Clearly, quite a few things went Pete Tong on Saturday. It was Gabriel, not Costa, who got sent off just before halftime despite Costa clawing, elbowing and chesting Koscielny to the floor. Yes, Gabriel was stupid in issuing an innocuous and flimsy kick to Costa after each man was booked; he should know Costa’s wind-up tactics and rise above them, even if Costa did say something unforgivable in Portugeuse.  That Costa was still on the pitch was Dean’s worst failure. The Spaniard should have been sent off for barging Kos to the ground moments before. Zouma should have been booked at a minimum for throttling Gabriel during the melee. Instead, Costa managed to convince Dean that Gabriel’s response to that string of provocations deserved a red card. Madness. Moving on, Ramsey committed some kind of ghost-foul to set up the free-kick that gave Chelsea its first goal. To be honest, Cazorla probably earned his red card even if Fàbregas did make a meal of the moment by writhing around as if his leg had been broken—an injury that, if memory serves, he’s seen a teammate or two suffer in the past. Those were the days.

Still, I come away from this one feeling pretty damned good. Chelsea needed every last advantage Dean could offer them and still barely came away with the victory. Don’t let the scoreline fool you, for it flatters Chelsea: the second goal came in the waning seconds on a fluky deflection. Hazard, for once managing to keep his feet despite being in the penalty area, struck hard only to see it deflect off of Ramsey and in. That’s not entirely undeserved, but when you spend 45 minutes with a man-advantage, and fifteen minutes with a two-man advantage, you deliver more than this. Hell, Chelsea were lucky that Alexis didn’t equalise moments after Zouma’s goal (might have had something to do with the horse-collar Zouma offered…).

We know what to expect when we combine Mike Dean, Diego Costa, José Mourinho, and Stamford Bridge. Anyone who did more than hope or believe that we would win is probably a bit deluded. This is not three points dropped. Losing at home to West Ham? That’s three points dropped (thanks, Hammers, for winning at the Etihad). Losing at home to Crystal Palace is three points dropped. For as wonderful as it would have been to win, we had to know that the dice were loaded. Costa did what he does. Dean did what he does. Even if we’d come in on a run of form, which we didn’t, there’s little chance that we could have found a win. As it stands, we’re still lacklustre at best, struggling to find form, and so I don’t mind this result at all. I mind the method.

I’d imagine that most Chelsea fans are quite content with winning by any means necessary and will mock Gooners for moaning about the result (ignoring how loudly and persistently Mourinho moans after his squad loses). No matter how they gloat and try to lord it over us and others, they know that there’s an emptiness there too vast to fill, no matter how many players are rented or how much silverware is bought. If you don’t fight for something, it’s hard to feel like you’ve earned it.

The larger concern for us is coping with Gabriel’s absence over three matches. Mertesacker didn’t make the bench for this match (still ill or recovering from the car crash), so it might come down to Chambers. Worse, Coquelin could be out for a few weeks with a knee injury, exposing a gaping hole in our defense. We three away-matches in the next have ten days, a midweek League Cup clash at White Hart Lane, then a visit to King Power Stadium to face Leicester, and a Champions League group-stage trip to face Olympiacos. Too bad Arsène couldn’t quite find that other DM we now need a bit more than we did 24 hours ago. However, this is the squad we have, and there’s little to gain about whingeing about that now. We’ll have to dig a little deeper (for courage, not for transfer-fees) for now, and make the most of what we have.

At the end of the day, Chelsea are still looking up at us on the table. Long may it stay that way…

With the interlull over, can we please find room for Ox?

What a week, for good and bad. We saw the transfer window slam shut without any dramatic deadline-day signings, obscuring the fact that the arrival Petr Čech signifies intent on its own. While our lads largely escaped any interlullian injuries, we were served with the bad news that Welbeck, the closest we have to a backup to Giroud, may be out until December. While obfuscating the length of his layoff might have been strategic during the transfer-window (full disclosure might have inflated asking-prices), we still are left to wonder how well we’ll contend going forward. Then again, we do have a full-strength defense, with Gibbs, Monreal, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Gabriel, Chambers, Debuchy, and Bellerín, offering all sorts of options as we invite the Orcs in on Saturday.

As for me, I had to take advantage of the interlull to settle into a new day-job over the last two weeks, and I’m not sure I can sustain the daily blog-posts, at least in the short-term. We’ll see. Fortunately, there hasn’t been much to worry over, what with everyone escaping injuries and, by and large, acquitting themselves. There was a bit of a kerfuffle over Giroud’s performance against Serbia, but it’s worth mentioning that this was a friendly, and Giroud actually didn’t do too badly, seeing the keeper deny him from close range and scuffing another shot wide from a very tight angle. Whatever. I’m not so worried about how our lads play at the international level; I’m more concerned with them returning to the club healthy and whole. Qualifying for Euro 2016 is important, to be sure, but I could do without the friendlies altogether.

Speaking of doing without friendlies, we’ll have an intense invasion on our hands come Saturday, when Stoke pays us a visit. They’ll be without a few of their more-fearsome faces, what with Shawcross injured, Adam serving a suspension, and Begovic sold to Chelsea, but it’s still Stoke, and passions will no doubt run high. That they’ll be without a few bogey-men hardly changes that. We’ll have a closer look at Hughes’s hellions tomorrow.

For now, though, a few quick musings on the Ox. He was first-choice for England (starting ahead of Walcott), and while no one would mistake San Marino or Switzerland for Chelsea or Man City, he did impress. In those stints he’s served in Arsenal’s season to this point, he’s both shined and shamed, scoring against Chelsea in the Community Shield and sort-of scoring against Newcastle; then again, he was guilty of coughing up the ball to West Ham to allow them to score their second goal in that loss. Even when he doesn’t score, he’s capable of forcing defenses to account for him. He’s one player in the squad who can offer both pace and power—but he still can’t find his way into a regular spot in Arsenal’s XI.

To play him on the right, where he played for England, would relegate Ramsey to the bench—or we could move Ramsey back to the middle—but would that force Özil to the left? Would this then force Alexis to play forward? With Ox finally shaking off some of the lingering after-effects of his cruciate ligament injury back in 2013 and starting to round into form at age 22, he’s starting to pose some pertinent questions about his role in the squad. There has been talk in the past from Arsène of grooming Ox to play more through the middle, but who would give way, and how would that affect our balance? It seems that Arsène wants to find room for Ramsey on the pitch, and Ox can’t or won’t supplant him on the right. Only a fool would suggest that he could outperform Özil or Alexis at their respective positions.

Could Ox then be primed to take over for Cazorla? The diminutive Spaniard will turn 31 in December, and that does bring to mind questions about other creative, attacking midfielders of the Spanish persuasion who have been converted to a deeper playmaking role after coming to Arsenal. While it’s far too soon to suggest that Ox and Coquelin be entrusted to play side by side, that might present Ox with his best chance at finding his niche. For now, our attacking midfield trio will consist of Alexis, Özil, and Ramsey. Unless Ox is ready to try his hand as a striker, his best bet lies in playing the box-to-box role alongside Coquelin. It’s a role he’s tried a handful of times alongside Arteta. If this Coq-Ox axis proves out, we could have our defensive midfield settled for the forseeable future. Time will tell…

Hammers 1-2 Gunners: A result that restores some semblance of order…

Phew. That’s about as much as I can say about that. Five minutes in, it looked as if Alex Song had done us in with a well-struck volley that knifed through a thicket of players to beat Sczcesny. Once again, it seemed like we had conceded an early goal and would spend the remainder of the match seeking an equaliser. The goal was disallowed in a harsh but technically accurate decision as Sakho was ruled offside—he nutmegged himself. Again, technically, it’s the correct decision, but it’s more than bit harsh. From there, thank God, we found our footing and went into halftime up 0-2, courtesy of goals from Cazorla and Welbeck. The result may not be quite enough to sink the Hammers, but it does elevate us to fourth, with an eye to third as early as Thursday.

I’m not sure I have the correct West Ham 1-2 Arsenal picture here…

Whichever way you slice it, this was a fantastic result as it sees us overtake the Hammers and draw level with the Saints, and there’s a slim chance that we could reel in Man U on Thursday should they lose at Stoke and we find a way to win at St. Mary’s. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though. There’s an old saying about counting eggs or chickens, I forget which, but we’d do well to mind the lesson either way. At our end, there’s enough in it to encourage some optimism; but for a late equaliser suffered at Anfield, we’d’ve won four in a row. At Upton Park, bigger questions now loom after two consecutive losses and eight points dropped from four matches. Are the Hammers reverting to form, or is this merely a short-term swoon?

At some level, Allardyce had to know that this one was a must-win, which might be why he rested Song and Sakho against Chelsea, perhaps conceding to the Blues while preparing for the Gunners, and the rotation nearly paid off as Song delivered that early volley, only for Sakho to negate it. The heretofore high-flyin’ Hammers now have to rally and reflect. West Brom will pay a visit on Thursday, and something tells me that the Hammers will find psychological succor from facing a squad that is entering the relegation-battle.

However, this result puts the Hammers behind us, not that we can safely watch them fade in the rearview mirror. With the struggles that Everton, Liverpool, and Newcastle have endured, it would be foolish to write them off. One more stumble at our end paired with a positive result or two at the Hammers’ end, and we’re right back to where we were.

I do sense, however, that we’re rising. Clubs like West Ham, Newcastle, Swansea, and Southampton may lack the depth or experience to sustain a tilt at a top-four position. Meanwhile, we’re weeks if not days away from seeing Walcott, Ramsey, Arteta, and Özil return to the fold. In other words, we’re gathering strength. Against West Ham, Koscielny’s return gave us a boost through his own performance as well as through Mertesacker’s. In front of them, Coquelin turned in a competent if not compelling spell, leading the squad in tackles and interceptions. He offered just enough to suggest to us that we may not need to sign a proper defensive midfielder. “Suggest” is a funny word, isn’t it? It falls into the same category as “interesting.”

We may not have rated the Hammers as rivals for a top-four spot back in August, but they’ve done more than enough to force our hand. Going into Upton Park and coming away with the win may not rate quite as high as a win at Stamford Bridge or the Etihad, but, on recent form, it merits a mention. We’ve earned a place at the table, shouldering aside West Ham in the process. Time will tell whether this a stepping-stone towards loftier goals or an end in and of itself. Fourth place. Is it our fate, or our destiny?

Matchday Preview: Cazorla will hit Hull hard

With the AGM behind us and few revelations on offer, we can at last turn our attention to actual footballing. We emerged from the interlull largely unscathed, with Özil having picked up his injury against Chelsea, Koscielny irritating his pre-existent tendinitis, and only Rosický as a fresh injury worry. We’re tantalizing close to having Walcott and Gnabry back, and after them Ramsey, but it’s still too early to get to see any of them against Hull. As we look ahead to the match on Saturday, I’m looking to Santi Cazorla to turn a corner on a strong start that has flirted with but not yet consummated the brilliance that endeared him to us in the first place.

I’m not looking to him to score a brilliant set-piece goal of the sort that inspired our fightback against Hull in the FA Cup, but that wouldn’t be a bad place to start. That 17th minute goal glanced off the keeper’s fingertips and in under the woodwork, changing a game that threatened to slip through our fingers just as so many others had in the past. With Özil out, Cazorla might have a chance to reprise the role that allowed him to get 12 goals and 14 assists two seasons ago. Hull have been one of the more-generous defenses of the early season, with their clean-sheet win over Crystal Palace marking the first time they’ve conceded less than two goals in five matches.

As I discussed here previously, Cazorla is one of those most likely to benefit and be called upon to deliver creativity and verve in our attack. He’s been playing more centrally in the 4-1-4-1, but it’s been a congested one as Özil drifts centrally from the left and Alexis does the same from the right. It’s likely that we’ll Alexis moved to the left to make room for Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right (with Welbeck up top). Against Hull’s 3-5-2, though, width will be all the more important as those five midfielders create congestion through the middle of the pitch. Behind them, though, will be plenty of space as those three defenders play tightly. Cazorla’s impact then, may come more through passes than from shots.

His two-footedness becomes vital here. The close touch he has should allow him to work out of the tight spaces permitted by the traffic in the middle, although he’ll likely suffer a number of fouls and hard tackles from Diamé, among others. When he has a chance to look up, he should see lanes to send balls in behind for Alexis and Oxlade-Chamberlain to run in on. The fact that he’s so thoroughly ambipedal (the term apparently parallel to ‘ambidextrous’…) means that defenders will have to be ready for him to slot passes in either direction, and both Alexis and Ox should find themselves with the ball on the edge of the 18 with choices.

Speaking of choices, such passes in will force Chester and Davies into some tough ones. Do they come out to meet the attack? Both Alexis and Ox have the pace and dribble to get past them more often than not. Staying home invites either to have a shot, albeit from a tight angle, or deliver a cross back into the middle. In the air, Welbeck has the height but perhaps not the aerial ability to vie with Chester, Davies, and former Spud Dawson. However, if Cazorla can feed balls to the wings that can then be cut back through the middle on the ground, Cazorla could turn from provider to receiver, collecting a pass to the top of the 18 to test the keeper.

This recipe might result in an assist or two, if not a goal, for Cazorla who, despite having delivered only one assist, has been quietly going about his business and turning in solid but not yet spectacular performances. At a risk of overcommitting myself to specifics, either for the player or the squad, I’d like to predict one assist and one goal for Cazorla. I’m not calling this a cakewalk, but I sense something from this squad, a realiztion or a determination to take these next half-dozen fixtures by the scruff and wring the most from them.

I’d love to see Santi lead that charge.

Where's the silver lining in Özil's injury? Take your pick…

At first blush, Özil’s injury sounded like it would be just the kind of thing a high-profile player run ragged by club commitments would need—two weeks of solid rest, perhaps extended another week or two in order to rejuvenutate tired legs and weary spirit. When the DFB announced that Özil would be ruled out of action for 10-12 weeks, we at Arsenal naturally cursed our lot in life and vented various levels of fury at Wenger for not bringing Cescy back or otherwise deepening, if not strengthening, the squad. However, whether Wenger had planned to persist in playing Özil wide or returning him to a more-central position (on paper, at least), we do have a plethora of options at our disposal and a softer string of fixtures coming up in which to deploy them.

It’s always darkest before the dawn, as the old saying goes, but there’s enough of a silver lining to sustain a mixed metaphor. More seriously, whereas an injury to Chambers, Mertesacker, or Welbeck might force us into some awkward mix-and-match line-ups, we don’t quite face the same worry when it comes to replacing Özil. I don’t believe for a second that we’ll be better of without him, even if he hasn’t sparkled enough to sate our expectations. His absence will challenge us, but here are a few lads who I’m sure are willing to step up:

  • Jack Wilshere
    Of course, he’s already found and earned more time playing in the center, and his impressive performances as a deep-lying playmaker, inspired by his study of Pirlo and Xabi, led England to two wins in the Euro 2016 qualifiers. Yes, a 1-0 win over ten-man Estonia is hardly the stuff legends are made of, but it wasn’t for lack of trying on Wilshere’s part. He had a number of key passes that teammates wasted. If he can continue to learn the discipline needed to stay home instead of bursting forward, he may just have found his niche. He’s been one of our most influential (and improved) players thus far, and Özil’s absence will ask him to step as a creative force even more. His willingness to spray longer passes through the air would add a vital, counterattacking component to an attack that all too often founders on a series of short, tentative, or overly cute passes. 
  • Santi Cazorla
    Santi’s turned into a bit of an enigma, to be honest. Ever since his first season with Arsenal, in which he delivered 12 goals and 14 assists, he seems to have struggled. He had only seven goals and nine assists last season. Forced wide by Özil’s arrival (and fatigued, perhaps, by Spain’s busy summer), Cazorla hasn’t had the same impact that he had when playing as CAM. He may be diminutive, but that hardly hampered his incisiveness. His deft touch with both feet allows him to dribble out of tight spots perhaps better than anyone else in the squad, and that two-footedness is all but wasted on the wing. Along similar lines, Cazorla lacks the pace to play on the wing. He’s been at his best as a creative force in the middle, beating defenders off the dribble and threading through-balls behind defenders for pacier teammates to run onto. 
  • Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
    Ox has played a few times through the middle but has spent most of his time with Arsenal on the wings. With the arrival of Alexis, the impending return of Walcott, and the absences of Ramsey and Özil, Ox might find his best chance back in the middle. The wing might make good use of his pace, but he’s not going to beat out Walcott (once he’s fully fit) or Alexis. His pace, size, and dribbling might suit him better through the middle, and this is also where his best chances are. He’s shown that he can adapt to playing a defensive midfielder’s role, playing competently and showing that he can shield the defense and get forward, similar to how Ramsey played last season. It also seems to fit Wenger’s long-time plan of grooming Ox for a more central role. 
In my dreams, we might see a midfield triangle (in a 4-2-3-1) with Wilshere and Ox at the base and Cazorla at the tip, feeding Alexis, Welbeck, and Walcott on the wings. Until Ramsey and Özil return to fitness, that’s an attack that should be strong enough to see off the likes of Hull, Sunderland, and Burnley.
We may be staggering after the raft of injuries we’ve suffered already, but it’s long since become part and parcel of who we are. Arsenal. We don’t rebuild. We reload.