The now firmly implanted reality that Arsenal will be without Santi Cazorla for “at least three months” has surely taken the sanity levels of many of the Gooner faithful. There will be no lamb’s blood on your door frames to save us from the express understanding that we could well and truly struggle without the Spanish maestro until March at the minimum.
While we can debate on and on about who is to take his place as the Geppetto to our Pinocchio of an attack, the truth of the matter is that there just isn’t anyone available at the club to make us come to life in the same way.
There has been much debate in many a circle about what the proper course of action should be moving forward, with most coming to the conclusion that Aaron Ramsey is the “logical” option to take up the creative mantel behind our front line – but is the Welshman enough? For me, and others, the answer is no.
Surely you must understand that it certainly is not a dig at Ramsey’s ability as a footballer, as what he brings to the side is invaluable…but only in a certain role, and that role is not the same as what Cazorla has been adapted to since last season. Santi has a way of controlling the ebb and flow of a match that makes him, arguably, the most influential player at any club in England at the moment.
In the wake of his confirmed injury, its come to everyone’s attention that the little Spaniard has been named the most efficient passer in the Premier League this term, completing 1034 of his 1119 passes. Further numbers reveal just how important he is in the oppositions half, where 719 of his completed passes were located. – None of the other nine players who qualified for the list (which came courtesy of EA Sports’ Player Performance Index) could come close to Cazorla. Across the board, Cazorla is pound for pound the most influential forward thinking player…and now we are without him for months.
Despite the numbers (and lets be honest, his actual play this season as well) further cementing his place alongside the likes of Francis Coquelin, Alexis Sánchez, Mesut Özil and Petr Čech as the most influential players in the XI this season, it’s been the unspoken defensive contributions he’s made this campaign that will make his lengthy absence an even harder blow to recover from.
Thanks to WhoScored.com, its come to light that Cazorla is more influential from a defensive standpoint than most give him credit. In the current Premier League campaign, only Laurent Koscielny, Mamadou Sakho and Vincent Kompany have won possession more in the defensive third than Cazorla (4.8 per match on average) – that stat, perhaps more than any other, speaks volumes and surely seals the deal on the argument that Cazorla must be considered irreplaceable in the side.
Now…about this pickle we are in on how to properly replace him. As stated before, most I’ve spoken to feel Ramsey fits the bill – he’s got the engine to feature well centrally for a prolonged spell and he would certainly contribute on both sides of the ball, but the one thing Ramsey lacks is the creativity and ability to control the pace of a match that Cazorla possesses.
After Ramsey, there is Jack Wilshere (who still divides opinion)…and that’s about it. Other potential candidates for the role could be Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, whom both his father and Arsène Wenger have said they see him as a central player in the long term, or perhaps to recall Gedion Zelalem from the blue side of Glasgow – surely the latter of the two options are not viable, neither would be trusting the aging legs of Mikel Artera. Now, more than ever, Arsène Wenger must negotiate the January market and bring in a midfielder who is capable of the Santi role, rather than us trying to patch together solutions.
Before we begin some sort of brief transfer talk, speculation, wishful thinking or whatever other name you’d like to give it, I urge everyone to be sensible and consider the following as they see more and more headlines come through that elude to Le Prof opening his cheque book in the new year: 1. We are Arsenal, not Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Manchester City or PSG – we do not have the money or the clout to bring in anyone in the world we want, 2. Clubs are far less likely to want to part ways with key assets with even less time to replace them regardless of how much money you offer them, and 3. The player would have to leave his club and come to London in the middle of the season and be under pressure from the off to perform at a level that is required of a midfielder in a side looking to challenge for the top place in the countries top league. When you consider the above, we do not have the options that people think.
We can all certainly agree that a Kim Källström-esque signing would surely not do and that someone of note must come in, but it will not be the Granit Xhaka’s (captain of Borussia Mönchengladbach) or Paul Pogba’s (probably the highest rated young midfielder in world football) of the world either. Yes Wenger must act in the market (at least in my opinion anyway), but perhaps even more in January than in the summer, he will not be held ransom by other clubs who will be made well aware of our situation and will look to cash in big.
One thing is most certainly clear however, and that is that our entire season is now on the line for the next three months – either Ramsey (or Wilshere when he is back) takes their chance via an injury much the way Héctor Bellerín did last term, or we must bring someone in to sufficiently fill what looks to be an unfillable void. If neither of the two scenarios play out, then it’s highly likely that, coupled with the injury of Francis Coquelin, the wheels will fall off the bus and we will not be able to sustain our title challenge.
When you find yourself without your first choice midfield pairing for months on end, in a position where you should have strengthened in the summer to begin with and remains paper thin in terms of resources, your ability to keep the spine of your side intact and influential becomes nigh impossible.
No one knows what will come for us this season when the clock strikes 2016, but I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that many of us could be disappointed come May.