15 October 2013

Cazorla and Özil together in t-minus four days and counting...

Sorry to look past England's qualifier with Poland later today, but, like many Gooners, I'm positively drooling over the possibilities on offer from a midfield that features both Santi Cazorla and Mesut Özil. Lost in the hype over Özil's actual signing and his own
injury, Santi looks set to return in time for Saturday's clash with Norwich. It's hard to resist the temptation to envision them simply eviscerating defenses, as each man brings such sublime skill-sets to the pitch. Between the two, they are arguably the most technically-gifted players in the squad, and their combined vision, dribbling, passing, and movement will likely unlock the most-stubborn of defenses. Add in the fine form of Ramsey and Giroud, among others, and it's hard to imagine any defense holding us off for a full 90 minutes.

Cazorla, for one, contributed 12 goals and 14 assists to last year's campaign, and it's amazing to consider that we still sit atop the Prem without his contributions (or those of Podolski or Walcott—the three of them accounted for a total of 37 goals and 30 assists last year, and after seven matches had tallied six goals and five assists). It's ironic to consider the embarrassing wealth of riches we will soon have at our disposal, but I imagine that Saturday won't show us much more than flashes and spurts and moments of brilliance as the two of them figure each other out—and as Arsène figures out how best to deploy them along with his other midfield options. With the Ramsey-Arteta-Flamini rotation in that defensive pivot, Özil, Cazorla, and Wilshere look set to prowl the midfield on Saturday (with others like Rosický and Walcott potentially available as well).

Making room for all three need not be a matter of assigning permanent positions to each, but it might make the most sense to deploy Wilshere in a central role with more defensive responsibilities, send Cazorla down the left, and Özil down the right, not that they would be playing as wingers as Podolski and Walcott might. If there's a weakness to Özil's game, it's in his defensive contributions, but that's grasping at straws a bit. Playing in front of Wilshere, Ramsey, and Flamini should offer Özil and Cazorla the freedom to roam, and the threat each of them poses, with or without the ball, will alternately stretch defenses out of shape and slice them wide open.

Özil's languid, effortless style and Cazorla's frenetic, helter-skelter jaunts may end up on opposite flanks, but each man's tendency to venture towards the middle should pull defenders and midfielders every which way. It's far too early to summon such comparisons, but it's almost obligatory to wonder whether we're going to see football on a level we haven't seen since the days of Henry, Pires, and Bergkamp. I won't use the capital-"I" word, but I will invoke another: intimidation. It's been years since we could intimidate a team even before a match could start. In years past, we've appeared shaky, especially against Man U, Man City, and Chelsea, and it's been rare that we'd go into a match simply believing that we'll come away with all three points. Heck, a year ago that we suffered a 1-0 defeat to none other than Norwich. Just as shocking was the feeling that it wasn't actually all that shocking in the uneven and sluggish start to last season's campaign.

Contrast those dismal days to now, when we don't just sit atop the Prem; we've gotten there with some electrifying play and strong performances throughout the squad—and we're not even at full-strength yet. The returns to fitness of players like Cazorla, and the continued bedding-in of new signings like Flamini and Özil, come just as our fixtures start to get tougher, both in frequency and intensity. With the verve and skill that Cazorla and Özil bring, though, we look to have an edge over most of our competition, if not in skill but in confidence as well. We still have to play the matches, of course, but it's a welcome change of pace to sense that we have that edge before the players take their positions.

I could go on, but I should stop. Before you go, please consider voting for Woolwich 1886 in the Football Blogging Awards' "best new blog" category. You can click here to here to vote via twitter or here to receive an email ballot. Thanks!