How do you solve a problem like Cazorla?
Santi Cazorla, Arsenal’s little midfield magician, will be a tricky man to replace. At the age of 32 and with injuries plaguing his season (again), Arsenal have struggled to find a replacement that can do what the diminutive Spaniard can.
Cazorla has averaged over a 90% pass completion rate in the last two Premier League seasons (beaten this season only by Mohammed Elneny in his 12 appearances). If you drill down further into those statistics, you see that he has successfully completed 704 passes, misplacing only 70 – giving himself a 10% error rate across close to 900 minutes of football in the 2016-17 season.
Then combine that statistical knowledge with what you can actually see on the pitch. The unrivalled ability with both his feet combined, the surprising strength to break through the first line of an opponent’s press and turn defense into attack instantly.
These qualities are sorely missed in this Arsenal team, the quick thinking that allows Mesut Ozil to drift into the half-space, knowing he’ll be found and it benefits Alexis Sanchez and the other Arsenal forwards, from having to drop deep to get involved.
With Granit Xhaka looking like a more Xabi Alonso style long-passer – and Elneny simply looking like a safer, less error prone Ramsey on occasion – Arsenal do not have someone who will sit in front of the defence and get them out of a high-press as easily as Cazorla can.
Do Arsenal replace him man for man, with a similar, younger player? This author believes so. At least to provide that silkier alternative to the all-action midfield combinations of Coquelin/Xhaka with Ramsey and Elneny.
I have several candidates in mind, I’d be interested to see if my readers agree;
1) Marco Veratti, age 24, currently playing for PSG
This should be the first name on any Cazorla-replacement shortlist. Another diminutive midfielder but one who has been the ticking heart of a mighty PSG side since his debut for the Parisian side in 2012. Boasting over 90% pass completion statistics in Ligue 1 in 3 of his 5 seasons (this season included), he matches the same passing requirement with a huge 1,926 completed passes in 25 games. Unfortunately, PSG will never let their favourite Italian go cheaply, and he has reiterated his desire to stay when previously linked to Juventus.
2) Wylan Cyprien, age 22, currently playing for Nice
Picked for his role in Nice’s sky-high position in Ligue 1. It took till November for Wylan to be on the losing side in his side’s march up the Ligue 1 table. With 7 goals and 3 assists so far, Wylan Cyprien is perhaps a little more impactful in the latter half of the pitch as Cazorla is, but his passing statistics are up there with the best. He has made 1,846 successful passes so far this season with an 89% passing success rate in Ligue 1. With 54 successful dribbles, he is the most capable with the ball at his feet out of all players in this list. A move to Arsenal would certainly be an attractive proposition, and an upward move.
3) Julian Weigl, age 21, currently playing for Borussia Dortmund
The bedrock of Thomas Tuchel’s Dortmund side, having never really left the side since his debut at the beginning of the 2015/16 season. His form since then resulted in a full call-up to Germany’s Euro 2016 squad, earning his first cap against Slovakia. Concentrating on this season, Julian Weigl has maintained a 90% passing accuracy, with close to 1,900 successful passes over simply 27 games. Would a move to Arsenal be a step up for this player? I would put a lot of the money on it if Thomas Tuchel succeeds Arsene Wenger.
4) Fabinho, age 23, currently playing for AS Monaco
A choice not in the Santi Cazorla mould physically, but certainly dynamic enough to replace Cazorla’s ability to break through the initial high-press of opponents. And interestingly enough, the player on this list with the move successful long-passes with 126 in 32 games. Combined with short passes that brings his total up to a comparatively small figure of 1,419 – but as mentioned earlier his 6-foot plus presence requires a bit more hustle than silky footwork. Monaco know Fabinho is one of many talents they have, and that is perhaps why they would be willing to let him go for a respectable sum of money.