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What Does the Future Hold for Santi Cazorla?

File:Flickr - Ronnie Macdonald - Santi Cazorla 2.jpg

The losses of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri at the start of the 2011/12 season were very bitter pills to swallow. With Tomas Rosicky injured and Andrey Arshavin out of sorts, Arsene Wenger burdened the responsibility of the primary playmaker role to a young Aaron Ramsey, who just returned to action after suffering a leg fracture the previous year. Arsenal fans can attest to the fact that Ramsey was a lightning rod for frustrations and the loss of confidence saw the Welshman lose his place to a resurgent Tomas Rosicky that helped the Gunners to a third place finish.

At the start of the 2012/13 campaign, Arsenal bought two forwards in Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski but the undoubted signing of the season turned out to be Santi Cazorla, a midfield maestro poached from a cash-strapped Malaga. Santi Cazorla’s performances were so consistent in his debut campaign with the club and he notched up a career-best 12 goals and a boatload of assists in the course of the season. According to WhoScored, Cazorla fired 115 shots, created 96 chances, attempted 86 dribbles, was fouled 50 times, made 184 crosses, passed the ball 2,471 times with a pass completion percentage of 86.8 percent.

His omission from the 2013 PFA Team of the Year bewildered Arsene Wenger, but it didn’t matter because the Emirates faithful knew that they had finally found a true replacement for the departed Cesc Fabregas. Cazorla flourished as Arsenal’s primary playmaker but the big-money acquisition of Mesut Ozil saw Cazorla relinquish his place behind the striker to a place on the wings (preferably the left) and he drifted infield to make his mark.

However, unlike his first season where Cazorla was simply inspirational, a Confederations Cup competition coupled with an ankle injury that sidelined him for five weeks took its toll on his fitness and form. On his long-awaited return from injury, Cazorla became a different player and his influence wasn’t seen in the games he played. Just went we thought he had reached his nadir, he put up a breathtaking performance against Liverpool, scoring a wonderful goal after his initial header hit the post.

Shortly after the Liverpool game, Cazorla played so poorly in subsequent games and he couldn’t even stay on the pitch for 90 minutes as he was always replaced. In the turn of the New Year, Cazorla picked himself up and started playing some good football. After a good performance against Cardiff, Cazorla scored Arsenal’s opener in the FA Cup third round clash against Tottenham.

He managed to reach a purple patch at some point, scoring five goals in quick succession but Cazorla couldn’t really reach the high standards he had set in his maiden season with the club. Notwithstanding, Arsenal handed him a new deal in March, much to the player’s delight but Cazorla’s high point of the season would be that unstoppable free kick he rifled into the net to begin Arsenal’s charge for the FA Cup final.

Cazorla joined his nation in their quest to defend their world title in Brazil but Spain embarrassingly crashed out of the competition with Santi Cazorla returning home earlier than expected. As the summer’s transfer dealings took center stage, Arsenal wowed their fans with the capture of Alexis Sanchez, a world class player in every sense of the word.

The prospect of watching Walcott and Sanchez play tho…

With a player with such a huge transfer tag as well as quality coming into a team, it’s only normal for someone else to give way to accommodate the player. With Walcott still recuperating from the knee injury he suffered in January and the Ox struggling to stay fit, Sanchez would maraud the right flank with Giroud and Cazorla in the remaining attacking positions. However, when Walcott returns to the team, many are tipping Cazorla to be displaced with Walcott and Sanchez providing support to Giroud from the wings.

Then of course, there’s the heavy media speculation linking Cazorla with a move to Atletico Madrid with a reported £15m price tag placed on Cazorla’s head. Many are now of the opinion that Cazorla is getting old (he turns 30 in December) so the Gunners need to cash in on him but I’m pretty sure that Arsene Wenger would know the importance of squad depth, as it cost the team dearly last season. Arsenal failed to cope with the losses of Ramsey, Walcott, Ox and Ozil to injury and it affected their Premier League campaign.

Cazorla’s technical astuteness, ambidexterity and versatility makes him a very valuable asset to Arsenal and it would be a big shame if the Gunners flush him out to the highest bidder. Personally, I’d prefer to see him remain in North London for years, because he’s an outstanding footballer.

The player himself will have a decision to make – he can stay and fight for his place or he can opt out to another team to strut his stuff.

So the question remains – what does the future hold for Santi Cazorla?

Sayonara.

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Szczesny vs. Ospina: A Competition that Would Benefit Arsenal

That was some shot tho

Those fervent followers of Arsenal would know that the team is currently in New York, as they are bracing themselves up for a friendly against the Red Bulls. Arseblog shared a couple of enlightening stuff about the American Gooners and it’s worth a read. While the manager and the players will be strutting their stuff on the field, there’s still some business to be done in the transfer market and according to the Guardian, the Arsenal hierarchy has reached an agreement with OGC Nice over the services of Colombian goalie, Davide Ospina.

With Lukasz Fabianski leaving on a Bosman to Swansea in search of first-team football, Arsenal are desperately light in goal and one wouldn’t expect Wojciech Szczesny to keep in every game this season. This World Cup showcased a good number of goalies that starred for their respective nations and Ospina wasn’t left out, as he performed admirably for Colombia before their quarterfinal elimination at the hands of the hosts, Brazil.

Colombia's goalkeeper David Ospina

Ospina in action in the game against Uruguay

At 25, Ospina would arrive with the mindset of making the No. 1 jersey his own, rather than an old hag that would have just been content with a place on the substitute bench. Judging from their performances in their respective leagues last season, stats king, WhoScored, published an infographic juxtaposing between Szczesny and Ospina.

image

While some may argue that Ospina probably edged over Szczesny due to the nature of the Ligue 1 compared to the Premier League, some would tend to forget that Szczesny had a better defensive rearguard in front of him, unlike Ospina, that didn’t have any household names protecting him from the attacking predators of the league. However, both keepers were highly influential for their clubs and Szczesny even notched up the Golden Glove award alongside Petr Cech.

There was a mind blowing stat I read about Ospina – OGC Nice lost all 9 games that Ospina didn’t start in Ligue 1 last season, conceding 2 goals per game compared to 0.86 with him. He was heavily impressive with his performances last season, and he took that form into the World Cup which was witnessed by many.

Having a quality goalie like Ospina would definitely put Szczesny on his toes and should the gods of injuries strike the Pole for reasons best known to some aliens in outer space, Ospina can serve as a dependable backup and I must confess that I’m looking forward to watch the stiff competition between both goalies.

In Szczesny, the Gunners have a goalie that can be the custodian between the sticks for many years to come but Ospina would offer a stiff challenge for the No. 1 spot. To wet your appetites a bit, here’s a YouTube compilation showing some excellent saves from Ospina.

Sayonara.

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Revealing the Benefits of Signing Mathieu Debuchy

Mathieu Debuchy

So one of the most kept transfer secrets have finally been made official – Newcastle’s Matt Debuchy is now a Gunner, and he has taken the No. 2 jersey, a traditional right back’s number. The full back joins the club after a good World Cup under his belt and instead of arriving as a late transfer deadline day signing, Debuchy would have the time to blend in with his new teammates, as well as getting accustomed to the Arsenal way.

Debuchy’s career began when he joined LOSC Lille Metropole at the tender age of eight, before breaking into the first team setup several years later. He made his debut in the 2003/04 campaign and went on to make 300 appearances (scored 18 goals) in 10 seasons for the French-based outfit before leaving in January 2013 to join another French-infested squad in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. After 18 months with Newcastle, he has joined the Gunners for an undisclosed fee.

With the era of Bacary Sagna gone, a new era has began with Debuchy leading the ranks at the right back position with Carl Jenkinson and / or Hector Bellerin serving as his able deputies. The Gunners linked with moves for Seamus Coleman and Serge Aurier but Arsene Wenger in his infinite wisdom opted for some French delight.

What makes Matt Debuchy stand out? Gooner Daily reveals the benefits of signing the French star.

Statistical Review of Debuchy, Compared with Sagna and other Arsenal Transfer Targets

According to stats king, WhoScored, the table below shows the overall stats of these right backs,

STAT (League Only)* Debuchy Coleman Aurier Sagna
Appearances (Subs) 28 (1) 36 (0)                    34 (0) 34 (1)
Goals 1 6 6 1
Assists 3 2 6 2
Bookings (Yellow / Red) (8/1) (3/0) (11/0) (6/0)
Aerial Duels Won /Attempted 4 per game (115/165) 0.4 per game (15/27) 2.7 per game (91/150) 3.5 per game (122/180)
Man of the Match Awards won 6 1 6 1
Who Scored Rating 7.42 7.32 7.43 7.20

From the table above, all four players were first team regulars in their respective clubs last season, but Seamus Coleman and Serge Aurier scored a boatload of goals (six each) unlike Debuchy and his French compatriot, Sagna, that managed only one goal all season long. Aurier picked up the most bookings from the lot and it can be attributed to his inexperience, rash style of play and probably late tackles due to his suspect positioning, as we witnessed in the concluded World Cup.

One significant area Debuchy excels from this table is his aerial ability and for a player with a height of 177 cm, Debuchy knows how to leap off the ground to challenge for the ball. This Route One tactic was employed by Arsenal last season, with Wojciech Szczesny always distributing the ball to Sagna’s direction to build up attacks. This means that with Debuchy taking Sagna’s place in the right hand side of defense, the trend will continue with Szczesny punting the balls to his direction – a feat either Aurier or Coleman would have been able to achieve had they joined the Gunners.

Debuchy doing his thing against some bloke from Honduras

Defensive Stats

Looking at the defensive side of their games, which is obviously their primary jobs, listed below are their stats from WhoScored,

STAT (League Only)* Debuchy Coleman Aurier Sagna
Tackles (per game) 95 (3.3) 71 (2) 94 (2.8) 58 (1.7)
Interceptions (per game) 69 (2.4) 47 (1.3) 75 (2.2) 51 (1.5)
Fouls Committed (per game) 41 (1.4) 25 (0.7) 38 (1.1) 23 (0.7)
Offsides Won (per game) 3 (0.1) 14 (0.4) 2 (0.1) 15 (0.4)
Clearances (per game) 138 (4.8) 88 (2.4) 102 (3) 175 (5)
Dribbled by Others (per game) 24 (0.8) 18 (0.5) 21 (0.6) 14 (0.4)
Blocked Shots (per game) 12 (0.4) 9 (0.3) 9 (0.3) 7 (0.2)
Own Goals committed 1 1 0 0

Judging from the stats, Debuchy made more tackles than his peers (really close tie with Aurier) but the Ivorian edged past Debuchy in terms of interceptions. The Frenchman also committed a lot of fouls which would be attributed to his eight yellow cards and one red card last season. Sagna made more clearances with five per game but Debuchy wasn’t far off wit 4.8 per game to his name. He also had a lot of blocked shots, which shows his enthusiasm in the back.

Having a player like Debuchy is really great because he has proved that he can do a very sound job at the back. There’s a reason he was selected ahead of Sagna in the starting lineup of the French national team. In the World Cup, Debuchy put up consistent performances in France’s first two games before he was rested for Sagna in a dead rubber fixture against Ecuador. In the knockout stages, he resumed his normal duties before his nation was eliminated by the eventual winners, Germany.

Enemies last month, buddies this month

Attacking Stats

From an attacking perspective, Serge Aurier excels admirably because of the license he has to bomb forward. Seamus Coleman was a winger that was converted to a full back, so it was expected for him to contribute immensely to Everton’s attack. It was no surprise that both players scored six goals each.

STAT (League Only)* Debuchy Coleman Aurier Sagna
Goals 1 6 6 1
Assists 3 2 6 2
Shots (per game) 35 (1.2) 30 (0.8) 58 (1.7) 16 (0.5)
Key Passes (per game) 23 (0.8) 45 (1.3) 32 (0.9) 21 (0.6)
Successful Dribbles (per game) 16 (0.6) 64 (1.8) 47 (1.4) 8 (0.2)
Fouled by Others (per game) 23 (0.8) 31 (0.9) 56 (1.6) 27 (0.8)
Times Caught Offside (per game) 5 (0.2) 2 (0.1) 7 (0.2) 0 (0)
Times Dispossessed (per game) 15 (0.5) 37 (1) 76 (2.2) 24 (0.7)
Turnovers (per game) 28 (1) 23 (0.7) 45 (1.3) 13 (0.4)

The downside to Aurier and Coleman’s attacking play was that they were vulnerable to counter attacks and teams capitalized on that flaw to punish them. Debuchy on the other hand, takes a more conservative approach to his offensive play and his off the ball movement is superb. In the World Cup, he worked in tandem with Matt Valbuena and they wreaked havoc on the right hand side.

Imagine him doing the same with Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or Serge Gnabry. Lord!!!

Premier League Experience

Debuchy spent 18 months in the Premier League and amassed 46 games for Newcastle. In his short stint with the club, he was a consistent performer and an ever present figure in Alan Pardew’s starting XI.

Debuchy scored his only Newcastle goal against Sunderland

With his move to Arsenal, Debuchy wouldn’t need any adaptation period of any sort because he’s already a seasoned professional in the Premier League. At 28, he’s at his prime, so he can give his best years to the club while a youngster like Carl Jenkinson would be learning the ropes.

The good times are back again.

Welcome Matt Debuchy, or Dorobuchy, as some Nigerians have likened his name to.

Sayonara.

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Why Signing a Holding Midfielder Should be a Top Priority this Summer

A new DM like Lars Bender would be a welcome addition

Anytime I think about the Invincibles, I reminisce on how strong Arsenal was in every playing position – Mad Jens Lehmann was a commanding presence in the box, the defensive pairing of Sol Campbell and Kolo Toure was a match made in the stars, the attacking wing play of Robert Pires and Freddie Ljungberg was a frightening prospect for the opposition and of course, the goals from Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp did the damage. However, I deliberate forgot to add the influence from the heart of the midfield with Patrick Vieira and Gilberto Silva pulling all the strings.

As the years went by, the key components of the Invincibles squad were shipped away and the era of the Fantastic Four in midfield began. In the 2007/08 season, Arsenal came really close to winning the Premier League and many would be quick to point out that it was the season Emmanuel Adebayor scored 30 goals and had a boatload of misses, but the collective performances of Cesc Fabregas, Mathieu Flamini, Aliaksandr Hleb and Tomas Rosicky was vital to the team’s surge for a title that season.

After Flamini departed on a Bosman to AC Milan, a void was created in holding midfield and albeit temporarily, Alexandre Song, seemed to be the man to tick all the boxes and served as the solution to Arsenal’s holding midfield problems. He had the imposing physical presence and his overall play was quite impressive, as he was an expert in breaking up play and handing the ball over to the folks that knew what to do with it.

Surprisingly, Alex Song had a different tactical style of play (maybe he was instructed by Wenger) with the arrival of Mikel Arteta in the 2011/12 season transfer deadline day. With the Spaniard having the football intelligence to cover admirably in midfield, Song started making forays forward, and there were two sides to his newly-found attacking verve – on the good side, he started raking up the assists and his overall play in the final third improved. On the bad side, he was always caught out of position and counter attacking teams punished Arsenal as they exploited the space vacated by Song.

With Song departing for the warm sunny bench in Catalonia, Arsene Wenger had the option of replacing him with a holding midfielder of equal or better quality and the media vultures reported that a deal for Rennes’ Yann M’Vila was 99.99999999999999999% done. There was no M’Vila at the start of the 2012/13 campaign and Wenger chose to play Arteta predominantly as his holding midfielder.

In fairness to the Spaniard, he has given the club the best of his abilities in the past two seasons as a holding midfielder and many Arsenal fans can attest to the fact that a new holding midfielder was needed. With no quality replacement (no disrespect to Francis Coquelin and co.), Arteta played far too many games (43) and at the start of the 2013/14 campaign, he suffered a thigh injury that sidelined him for some weeks, but Wenger opted to re-sign Flamini on a free transfer.

Having Flamini around was good for squad depth and all, but his carefree attitude earned him some suspensions as the season progressed. He added steel to the midfield but his lack of agility was exploited at times, and as I stated earlier, he had far too many bookings for my liking.

When I remember those horrific drubbings in the hands of Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea, I vividly remember how the midfield was open and the opposition got into Arsenal’s defensive positions way too easily. The lessons ought to have been learned but apparently, the games proved that they weren’t. Arsenal needs a holding midfielder that would instill fear in the eyes of the opposition when they see him. We may never have another Vieira (please don’t give me that Abou Diaby can be his replacement bullcrap) but there are some holding midfielders out there that would improve the team.

The most recent midfielders to be linked with the Gunners are Morgan Schneiderlein, Lars Bender and Sami Khedira. Without blinking twice, Bender would be my most obvious choice. His age (25) is perfect and his performances were bright sparks in a relatively dark Leverkusen campaign. Bender made 3.7 tackles per game in the Bundesliga last season with 1.8 interceptions but there has to be some improvement in his passing range as he managed a meager 77.7% while Arteta averaged 92.1%.

With Arteta turning 32 and having just one year left on his deal to run, one might be feeling that he’s living on borrowed time.

There’s money in the bank.

Arsenal has to make signing a holding midfielder a priority.

Sayonara.

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Fabregas Signs for Chelsea – A Bitter Pill to Swallow

image

Coming back to work after a public holiday has a funny feeling especially if that day is a Friday but that’s what happens in this part of the world. After the lovely opening ceremony and some Jennifer Lopezification, the World Cup took center stage and it was kinda fun actually watching football as a neutral without giving a ram’s scrotum about who was going to win, lose or draw.

Questions would be raised about the penalty awarded for the second goal but it just goes to show that even World Cup referees have a little bit of some English Premier League referee DNA in them. It can manifest when it wants.

Drifting away from the proceedings at Brazil, you must have heard about the news making waves in London. Cesc Fabregas, that wasn’t wanted at Barcelona for reasons best known to Lord Voldemort and the Loch Ness monster, has returned to the Premier League. Arsenal released a statement that they had no intentions of signing the Spanish midfielder and many felt that it was a move that they could rue.

Jose Mourinho, the opportunist, quickly set his sights on the player and within days, he was seen with his favored No. 4 jersey that was vacated by PSG-bound David Luiz. Fabregas released a statement following his completed move to West London,

“I considered all the other offers very carefully and I firmly believe that Chelsea is the best choice,They have an amazing squad of players and an incredible manager. I am fully committed to this team and I can’t wait to start playing.”

“Yes, everyone knows that Arsenal had the first option to sign me.”They decided not to take this option and therefore it wasn’t meant to be. I wish them well in the future”

How nice of Fabregas to remind us the obvious. Unlike the cases of Robin van Persie and Samir Nasri where they left under such acrimonious circumstances, Fabregas was bound to leave to Barcelona and he stated it times without number that he would love return to the home of football, the Emirates.

Everybody knows that Arsenal had the option to go for the kill but they chose not to take it. Yes, the Gunners have the splendid Mesut Ozil in their ranks and Aaron Ramsey had shown his quality but having a player of Fabregas quality would have been a major plus. He would have added a lot in terms of squad depth because Arsenal’s lack of depth in key areas of the squad cost the team dearly last season.

Maybe Arsene Wenger clearly has his own targets and he chose not to sign Fabregas out of sentiment, but watching the Spaniard spray those his Hollywood passes to the Chelsea forwards would be a painful sight. Then again, the fans would let it all go because he’s a professional and he’s expected to do his best for his new team.

I wish him all the best in his new club.

Hell no, I actually don’t. -____-

Sayonara.

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