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Adios Santi Cazorla – The Smiling Spaniard

Santi Cazorla is set to rejoin his former club, Villareal – and the news is another departure that is hard to swallow.

The Spaniard has been fighting hard for over 18 months to return from a horror injury that nearly claimed his leg, and upon seeing the first images of the sunny Spaniard’s return to training, social media was awash with not only nostalgia – but genuine warmth.

Because Santi Cazorla unites our fans. He is one of those rare breeds that no matter what end of the fan spectrum you are, you cannot help but love the man.

It has helped inexorably that he is perhaps one of the most talented players we have ever had at the club – and his departure and injury that cost him 18 months of playing time will cast a shadow over his time as a Gunner.

The diminutive midfielder is also two-footed – so much so that it is hard to tell which is his natural side and which did he work on tirelessly on the training field at. This ability puts him above most, and also helped out in tight situations.

Santi Cazorla is often described as one of the most blessed his teammates have ever seen – even when compared to Mesut. He has been a source of joy when on the ball, and his talents should be held up to young players as a target to aim for. Should any kid make it and have Santi’s level of skill on his left and right foot? He’ll be destined for greatness -but he’ll need another of Santi’s attributes to succeed too – appetite.

This hunger formed the foundation for his transition from playmaker to a central role – and is probably the biggest testament to his worth.

His success in the middle of the park showed that he wasn’t a one-trick pony. He could create openings in tight games, but his desire saw him outmuscle players he had no right to, and his carrying of the ball forward at the tight times, smacked of tactical acumen and bags of skill.

The thing that us fans will remember above all though?

He played with a smile on his face. He loved the game, he genuinely enjoyed wearing our colours, and he gave everything to us when he was on the pitch.

Villareal will most likely be his last club before retirement, should he return to full fitness. The La Liga club have prior history with our talent – having taken Robert Pires from us when he departed.

We were robbed of what could have been the start of a budding partnership with Aaron Ramsey thanks to his troublesome achilles, and his subsequent recuperation was watched avidly by us all – for two reasons.

Firstly, we knew how much our team could benefit from having a fit Cazorla in our side.

Secondly, we all just missed seeing him.

He possesses the talent to change defence to attack, to grab the ball to stem a tide, to transform what is a tricky scenario into a promising one.

The end of his career is similar to Tomas Rosicky’s in a way.

Both were talented midfielders, blessed with a velvet touch. They also held the affection of all fans. Injury stole some of their time with us, but the ending will be the same too.

We will look at Cazorla the same way as we do at Tomas.

With misty-eyed nostalgia – and gratitude.

Unai Emery Set to be Next Arsenal Boss

Former PSG and Sevilla manager, Unai Emery, looks to be the next Arsenal manager, according to BBC Sport.

David Ornstein, BBC Sport correspondent and the man who often breaks Arsenal news via social media, stated that the Arsenal Board have unanimously agreed on the 46 year old Emery, who is set to be announced by the club later this week.

Unai Emery, the next Arsenal manager

Sky Sports Spanish football correspondent Guillame Balague commented on the situation early yesterday, stating that Emery was in talks with Arsenal and was in London. With most already accepting Mikel Arteta as the next Gunners boss, this was surprising news.

Arteta is now out of the running – whether this is because he turned it down or if he was even offered the managers role is up for debate – and Emery is close to being confirmed, with an announcement expected within days.

Emery earned his stripes at Sevilla, winning three successive Europa League trophies with the Spanish club, during his stint from 2013-16, but he has seen success throughout his managerial career.

In his first job at Spanish side Lorca, he took the club to the second tier for the first time in their history. A move to Almeria beckoned, and he earned a first ever promotion with the Andalusians. They finished a respectable eighth in their first season in the top flight.

Then, a switch to the big boys. Emery replaced Ronald Koeman at Valencia in 2008. The club were in serious financial trouble, but he still guided them to European qualification. His second season then saw him achieve a fantastic top 3 finish in La Liga, which he again replicated the following season – even after selling his top stars Villa and Silva.

An ill-fated switch to Spartak Moscow – his spell lasted just six months, followed, but it was his return to Spanish football with Sevilla that underlined his managerial chops.

Three Europa League wins out of three seasons was the result for Emery, and two fifth place finishes. It was his electric brand of football that really excited though. Sevilla cut through opposition ruthlessly, and their counter-attacks were swift. They could defend stoutly, but their pacy attack was what grabbed the glory in Europe.

A move to PSG was a mixed bag for Emery, mainly because of the bottomless pockets meant that expectation could only be sated with lifting the Champions League trophy. He failed to win the cup, but his band of hastily strung-together stars still dominated Ligue Un.

Now he is set for Arsenal, with skillful players but a desperate need for new tactics – and a more taciturn defence.

Can he deliver? He has the nous and the experience at the top level – all we can do is back him to succeed.

Gabriel and Decisions

Published on Goonersphere.

For years, us Gooners were crying out for a bit of mettle on the pitch.

Season after season of matches where we folded like a wet pack of cards, in the face of the merest hint of physicality from our opposition.

With concerted pressing and a few choice kicks off the ball, our aesthetically pleasing football was reduced to a plodding display which lacked the dynamism to really optimise our footballing brain.

We needed a hatchet man.

Arsenal have always had that player that rode into view when our enemy were getting ideas above their station. When his teammates needed protecting, players like Peter Storey, the entire famous Back4, Patrick Vieira – that ilk of player that never backed down. Sometimes to the cost of a red card, but their strength inspired their cohorts, and they felt braver as a result.

So when Brazilian Gabriel was signed in 2015, the omens were good that we had a player to crack a few skulls when the time came to it.

The toothy defender joined from Villareal, and the Spanish side had been climbing La Liga thanks to their imperious defence. 

Along with Mateo Musacchio and Victor Ruiz, the ‘Yellow Submarine’ had proved the toughest nut to crack in Spain.

Gabriel had a reputation for no-nonsense defending, but could carry the ball if he was asked to. His transfer fee meant hopes were high amongst us all, and I went to the match which was his debut in an Arsenal shirt – the FA Cup tie versus Middlesbrough.

It was a 2-0 routine game which really should have seen Arsenal score more, but Gabriel stood out with his aerial prominence. He looked strong, and had the potential to form a bedrock should he be given the chance.

He made 21 appearances in the league that season, 19 the season after. There were also plenty of opportunities in the various cups too.

These numbers represent ample chances to prove his worth, to show he can handle the unique demands the Premier League offers.

What has been abundantly clear is that whilst Gabriel’s reactionary defences are strong, his decision-making is not up to par. When given the time, the Brazilian made constant rash decisions which gave away set-pieces.

There were periods when Gabriel looked the part. Last season he was called into the side to play as an emergency right-back, and he did not let us down. He was solid, his positioning was error-free – he did the job effectively.

He couldn’t keep his place though. Gabriel simply gives away too many fouls, goes to ground too often in last-gasp tackles that have a low percentage of success, and couldn’t bond with his defensive partners.

His much-vaunted troubles with the English language didn’t help, but we have had many foreign imports and they have all had to learn the dialect, so why was it so difficult for Gabriel?

Who knows. What is certain is that his departure, for slightly less than he was purchased for, was a dilemma of sorts.

Some cried out after he was sold, saying he was a great backup and we still need defensive numbers. The dilemma though, was that it was either Gabriel or Calum Chambers who would have left the club – and Chambers is a far better long-term option.

Firstly, the England man’s age weighs in his favour. Secondly, his Under-21 displays as Captain show what he is capable of – as well as his record under severe duress in his season on loan with a poor Middlesbrough side.

Chambers could still develop into a fantastic defender. He IS a fantastic defender, but needs a chance.

Gabriel had his chance, and whilst he could have forged a career in the Premiership, Arsenal deserved better than what he could give. It feels sad to say that because, above all else – Gabriel left everything on the pitch when he pulled on the shirt.

If we could have all of our current players have the same burning desire Gabriel showed in every minute he played for us, then we would have a squad that competes far more than it does right now.

Thank you Gabriel, and we all hope you find your way at Valencia.

Lucas Perez – Arsenal’s New Striker

Lucas Perez is officially our new striker at Arsenal – 

click the pic for the official link
It has been abundantly clear recently that Arsenal required another striker.

With Olivier Giroud missing the first few games of the season, and Danny Welbeck again on the injured list, the options for the spearhead of our attack were threadbare. 

Theo Walcott and Alexis Sanchez have both had spells as the sole striker, which only served to highlight the desperate need for another attacker to join the ranks – and the £17.1m capture of Spaniard Lucas Perez is a move that will allow adaptation during games.

Is the former Deportivo man the player we needed though? Is he good enough to make a mark on the team? Let us have a look at what he has done in his career thus far.

The striker known as ‘Lucas’ has acquired a fair bit of experience, but he started in the youth team of Atletico Madrid. He failed to make a first team appearance, and moved to Rayo Vallecano.

Then, in 2011, he signed for Karpaty in Ukraine. In 2013, he earned a loan move to Dynamo Kiev. His first season bore average figures, but eight in 18 in his second season was more of what he is capable of.

Fifteen goals in fifty one appearances in his short spell in Ukraine, but more interestingly, a Europa League game in the 2011/12 season versus PAOK Saloniki prompted the Greek side to purchase the Spaniard for £595k.

Ten goals, and fifteen assists in fifty appearances for the Greek side, are hardly world-beating figures. However, the assists figure hints at a player more than simply a goal-poacher.

His displays caught the attention of his homeland, and Deportivo acquired his services in 2014. His first season was nothing to write home about, but his second campaign – last season – is far more impressive.

17 goals last season, and eight assists, mean he has the goals that can make a difference for his new side.

Lucas is a converted winger, and it means he can adapt and shift when necessary, but his role for Deportivo was that of a striker, and it is this role that he can wreak the most havoc. 

He is well known for his exocet of a shot, and he plays on the last shoulder of the defender, which is a perfect alternative to Olivier Giroud. Alternatively, if played together, he could profit immensely from Giroud flicking airborne balls to him. Not only that, Mesut Ozil is crying out for a more mobile striker that his visionary passes can find, so our team will no doubt be stronger as a result of his presence.

His age means he is a short term option. Nearly 28, he can give 2-3 years of top level service. What is clear is that for all the clubs he has played for, Lucas takes a while to adapt, never truly gaining the figures he is capable of until his second season.

The problem is though, is that he has joined Arsenal. We expect dividends early, and if he doesn’t make an impact early, then a large slice of fans who already doubt him, will cast him aside as a waste of money.

Arsene Wenger knows far more than we do in regards to knowing if a player is right for our squad. Lucas can make a difference, but he also must work hard to get the fans onside. If effort is shown, then have no doubt that the majority will give him the leeway to acclimatise. 

Lucas possesses the weaponry to fill the void in goals, and we can hopefully look forward to the Spaniard registering double figures for the foreseeable future. He was on many top clubs radar for very good reasons, and acquiring his service can only be seen as a good thing.

Is Santi Irreplaceable?

Originally posted on Goonersphere.

It would seem that conversations surrounding the beautiful game make up the lion’s share of my contact with fellow humans. Any other topic is given short shrift as my attention interminably wanders towards football once more. It matters not if I’m involved in dialogue with colleagues, Managers, family or infuriating customer service assistants – conversations always find a way to involve football.

One such conversation was with my brother. The ebb and flow of small talk as we had both finished work was routine, comforting to a degree. Then he asked me if I’d heard anything regarding Santi Cazorla leaving in the summer to Atletico Madrid. Upon hearing this transfer tittle-tattle, my father waded into the exchange. According to his TalkSport soaked brain, he heard the same thing but with the added twist of Santi fed-up of playing second fiddle to Ozil for the Number 10 shirt and wished to return to more familiar climes.

I confessed to hearing such a vile worm of a rumour, but that I had quickly consigned it to whence it belonged – the rancid bowels of causerie. Seeing as two members of my family had heard the same thing, I chose to dig a little deeper. To look past the gaudy make-up and look at the real face of the story.

Santi Cazorla has once more begun to exhibit the form he is capable of this season. Last season he was shuttled to different positions as Arsene Wenger tinkered with formations in order to fit all the vital pieces into the picture. Santi suffered a dip in form and the lustre that had followed him everywhere was dulled a little. This season though, from the battling performance in the 2nd Leg Vs Besiktas to his twinkling feet and bursts forward in the masterful win Vs City at the Etihad – he has revelled in the responsibility awarded to him due to his position as a box-to-box midfielder. He has answered all critics and has shown he can incorporate the more robust nature of the game but still maintain the elaborate technique that cosmopolitan football requires. He has all the tools required.

Our Spaniard’s name has echoed all around our stadium as we have all been privy to our diminutive Spaniard inspire all around him. Whether he is creating chances for others or biting at the heels of opponents, he has reminded us that his true two-footed style and his burning desire for success is so important to us. So, with spurious news regarding his departure floating around like a bad smell, is it a case of success breeding negative focus or is there no smoke without fire?

The embers were stoked by Sky Sports La Liga stooge and former Barca player Gaizka Mendieta who claimed that Cazorla would ‘relish a return to Spain‘. The flames started to lick lasciviously when Spanish football ‘Insider‘ Guillem Balague then ‘confirmed‘ that Atletico were in talks with Santi’s entourage ( see the first link ). So the old adage, “my people are talking to their people” is apparently in full effect. These are the facts that are presented to us.

Firstly, Santi Cazorla has eighteen months left on his current contract. Once this season comes to a close, he will have one season left, which in turn will bring down any respective price for our wonderful midfielder. This will obviously act as blood in the water for hungry clubs looking to bring in a player who can make a difference. Atletico are indeed in need of reinforcements as they see their La Liga crown slip away slowly.

Balague and Mendieta though, are not exactly certified sources. Mendieta may have certain links to Barca and Valencia but he has no previous history with revelations or being a credible source. Balague has unabashedly circulated many different stories – especially during transfer windows – but his success rate is on a par with a night on the pull with Peter Beardsley as your wingman.

Seemingly though, the noises from these Spanish scaremongers was enough to coax reassuring soundbites from our manager. In a pre-match press conference, Arsene sought to end the rumours surrounding our mercurial midget and confirmed that he will be going nowhere.

Santi is currently 30 years old. It is undoubtable that we would struggle to find a midfielder who is two-footed footed and has the incredible range of tackling and passing that Santi has. He offers security to our defence and can counter-attack with rapier-like speed. This is not to say he is indispensable though.

Arsene and his army of scouts have no doubt earmarked a replacement if Santi has packed his suitcase for next season. If not, then the problem we have when all players are fit ( don’t laugh ) would be solved. With a little faith and an extended run in the team, the majority of our midfielders could play in most positions. Then there is The Ox. A player who has shown in flashes and spurts that he can play in central midfield and also provide the outlet to convert defence into attack and quickly. We have an embarrassment of riches.

So if Santi wants leave, then we should not hold him here. Recoup some cash and reinvest wisely. Then again, the more likely scenario is that Santi stays, seeing as the people responsible for the nucleus of this story don’t have the most reputable of track records.

I do hope I’ve cleared that up. He may leave. He may stay. I’m not particularly perturbed either way and neither should be any Gooner.

By @JokmanAFC