When Arsenal left the tunnel and walked out onto Coral Windows Stadium, they must have thought it was going to be a walk in the park. Literally. But oh contraire, how wrong they were. The London side never got going despite fielding a full-strength team, and Bradford punished Arsenal for their lack of determination in the 16th minute courtesy of a well-deserved goal from Gary Thompson. But these 1-0 leads are seldom easy to defend for the next 70 minutes or so, and Bradford’s fatigue got the better of them in the 88th minute when Belgian powerhouse Thomas Vermaelen rose to the occasion to score a towering header, Arsenal’s only goal of the game. 1-1 and extra-time loomed. Some Gunners’ fans hoped for the best, and held optimism when there was no reason to do so. Others feared the worst. The latter group had their worst nightmare become a reality. After the earlier-hero, Vermaelen, missed his decisive penalty in the shoot-out, Arsenal were left reeling. Bradford were in ecstasy. Two contrasting moods to say the least. On this eventful winter’s night, it almost spelt, and still could do, the end of Arsene’s reign in The Premier League. But one man, a Spaniard, could still save the Frenchman. This player, although slight in stature, has so far this season proved to be Arsenal’s biggest figure, their driving force, their go-to-guy. His hat-trick on Monday at the Madejski emphasized his importance to his new suitors. One would be inclined to say that ‘Santi’ has come early this year for Wenger, and he still has time to help turn Arsenal’s season around, and take it by the scruff of its neck.
The former-Malaga man was being tipped for astronomical success in the Premier League before he had even officially put pen to paper for the Gunners. He was never going to flop for the London side, having been one of La Liga’s most influential players for the past 5 years. Last season, Cazorla finshed as the best player, statistically speaking (via WhoScored.com), that didn’t turn out for either of Spain’s two giants, Barca or Madrid. After bagging 9 goals and 5 assists last season, Cazorla was always going to be a hot commodity in the coming transfer window. It was no secret that Malaga were having huge financial difficulties, and he was one of the first players to jump ship. Cazorla is also known for his free-kick and set-piece prowess. A lethal long-shot, nimble footwork and a sumptuous eye for a pass also within his armoury, and the attacking midfielder had all the traits that were appealing to a highly established yet recently troubled club such as Arsenal. Cazorla also managed to notch up 8 goals outside the box last season, the highest number of goals scored from there in all of Europe’s top 5 leagues. The stage was already set for the 5-foot 4′ magician to burst upon the English scene, all he needed to do was live up to the hype. He has done just that, and a tiny bit more.
If Cazorla keeps up this form that he’s shown for the majority of this season, he could aid Arsenal in their fight to regain that coveted fourth spot, a spot which brings them Champions League football. He already has 7 goals in 21 appearances for the Gunners, almost topping the total amount of goals he scored in La Liga last season. During Wenger’s tenure, Arsenal have never failed to qualify for the Champions League, or get through their group stage. Some achievement, yes, although it is worthless if you qualify for world football’s most prestigious competition, only to crash out in and around the same stage every single year. You may be able to attract quality players, but not the world’s best, if you don’t seriously contend for the Champions League and also the Premier League. With one or two more quality signings, Arsenal could well see themselves in with a shout of progressing even further in the CL, especially with a mastermind like Santi Cazorla at the heart of their mid-field. With Cazorla at the helm, Arsenal may still be able to convince players of a sufficient caliber to abet them in their quest for Premier League and Champions League glory.