As the game evolved on Sunday between Man City and Arsenal I had this surreal sensation of a slowly unfolding train wreck. From the moment the ball ricocheted from midfield to defense after Cech’s back-kick and somehow eluded both Gabriel and Koscielny to find the clearly offside Sane, who went on to score, it was apparent to me we were losing control of the game. By the way, the mealy mouth media bastards who are usually the first to proclaim that offside applies to any part of the body that is off, deserve a place in hell for trying to justify Sane’s goal on the grounds that Koscielny’s “boot” kept him on. This fate applies equally to ex-Gunner Lee Dixon as well as his team of yes-men, Arlo White and Graeme LeSaux who were on my NBC tv feed. Their ex-post justification of a clear officiating error, is further confirmation that the mainstream media can do nothing less than reflexively and automatically justify officialdom, no matter how wrong and unjust. But then they are all part of the Establishment. How dare they criticize one of their own?
From the moment Man City scored, the swagger, confidence and bravado that was apparent for much of the first half clearly began to slip away. The Arsenal men, slowly but surely, lost control of the game both on the defensive and offensive end. Too often the team was desperately defending on the edge of the box unable to move the ball from defense and attack. Justifiably they tried to play the ball out of the back rather than whacking it down field. More often than not it would ping uncontrollably off the legs of a Gunner resulting in a turnover to the opposition.
Nobody in midfield seem able to take-on one or more opponent in tight paces and beat them with skill or win a foul giving the team time to reset. No one had the audacity, impudence, the nerve, simply the chutzpah, to attempt a dribble from deep in Arsenal’s defensive 3rd and put the pressure on the opposition forcing them to retreat as fast as hell fearing Arsenal could easily turn defense into attack at lightning speed. Simply speaking there was no Santi Cazorla in sight.
I am not sure how many shared my feelings but as the game increasingly fell from our grasp I desperately pined for our little Spanish maestro. Afterwards, as is my wont, I researched the data to confirm whether my feelings had any factual basis or not.
7 Games With Santi:
9 Games Without Santi:
Is there a more telling series of data? With Santi the club was putting up an eye watering statistic ppg of 2.7, which is title-winning numbers, and without him the ppg has fallen by 50% to 1.3. The dramatic fall in ppg, if not arrested, is a slow but sure slide to mid-table mediocrity. The data-phobic critics will be the first to say the sample size is small, etc. But PA readers are aware of the research I did last October, which prove that ever since he arrived from Malaga four years ago, Santi Cazorla has been the most valuable player at Arsenal Football Club.
Take a gander at the following key data
From the moment he arrived at Arsenal, Santi was required to play some heavy minutes, well in excess of 3,000 in his very first year and a trifle less in 2014/15. Add 624 and 559 minutes respectively in the champion’s league campaigns, then we get a full measure of how vital it was for the manager to have the little maestro on the team sheet. It was only because of injuries that his minutes were abbreviated in 2015/16.
When playing, Santi excelled in all the key technical attributes of a midfielder. Never the most prolific of goal scorers, he rattled in as much as 12 in 2012/13 but this leveled off over the years as his role changed to someone operating from a deeper midfield position. Equally, if not more significant, was his ability during the first three injury-free years to create a consistently high number of assists improving from 1 in 3.36 games in 2012/13 to 1 in 3 in 2014/15. Throughout the years the Spaniards passing percentage was never less than the 86th percentile improving to as high as the 90th percentile in 2015/16.
How did this translate into results? The data reveals that consistently, without exception, for all games played by the ambidextrous Spanish maestro, Arsenal’s ppg was consistently higher than the ppg for the entire team for the comparable season, i.e. when one accounts for games without Santi.
|Season||PPG-Santi||PPG-AFC||PPG – Title|
The difference ranges from 0.27 ppg in 2015/16, the period when Santi was absent for nearly 6 months, to a mere .09 ppg in 2014/15. These numbers may appear to be marginal and insignificant but such are the fine margins between winning and losing a title:
- If Arsenal sustained Santi’s 2.14 ppg in 2015/16 the club would have exceed Leicester’s title-winning total of 2.13.
- If Arsenal sustained Santi’s 2.24 ppg in 2013/14 they had the possibility of competing with Manchester City for the title, definitely coming closer to 2nd rather than finishing 4th.
Despite years of unbiased data which demonstrate, without need for headlines and drama, that Santi Cazorla is the key link in the chain built by Arsene Wenger, not every pundit and tactical expert was willing to proclaim that he left a big gaping hole in the Arsenal midfield last October with his injury. Even the relatively decent WhoScored .com to date averaged Santi as less than a 7 out of 10 player:
It was left to Arsene Wenger, when recently asked whether he would go out into the transfer market to get another Santi Cazorla, this January to state:
“… in January you will not normally find a Cazorla – even if you want to.”
Seems to me Arsene will have to tinker with the shape of the side between now and Cazorla’s return to make it a little more solid defensively at the expense of the earlier swashbuckling attacking style. Between now and then our title-winning chances will rest on the very fine thread sewn by Santi’s surgeon in Sweden.