17 October 2014

Matchday Preview: Cazorla will hit Hull hard

With the AGM behind us and few revelations on offer, we can at last turn our attention to actual footballing. We emerged from the interlull largely unscathed, with Özil having picked up his injury against Chelsea, Koscielny irritating his pre-existent tendinitis, and only Rosický as a fresh injury worry. We're tantalizing close to having Walcott and Gnabry back, and after them Ramsey, but it's still too early to get to see any of them against Hull. As we look ahead to the match on Saturday, I'm looking to Santi Cazorla to turn a corner on a strong start that has flirted with but not yet consummated the brilliance that endeared him to us in the first place.

I'm not looking to him to score a brilliant set-piece goal of the sort that inspired our fightback against Hull in the FA Cup, but that wouldn't be a bad place to start. That 17th minute goal glanced off the keeper's fingertips and in under the woodwork, changing a game that threatened to slip through our fingers just as so many others had in the past. With Özil out, Cazorla might have a chance to reprise the role that allowed him to get 12 goals and 14 assists two seasons ago. Hull have been one of the more-generous defenses of the early season, with their clean-sheet win over Crystal Palace marking the first time they've conceded less than two goals in five matches.

As I discussed here previously, Cazorla is one of those most likely to benefit and be called upon to deliver creativity and verve in our attack. He's been playing more centrally in the 4-1-4-1, but it's been a congested one as Özil drifts centrally from the left and Alexis does the same from the right. It's likely that we'll Alexis moved to the left to make room for Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right (with Welbeck up top). Against Hull's 3-5-2, though, width will be all the more important as those five midfielders create congestion through the middle of the pitch. Behind them, though, will be plenty of space as those three defenders play tightly. Cazorla's impact then, may come more through passes than from shots.

His two-footedness becomes vital here. The close touch he has should allow him to work out of the tight spaces permitted by the traffic in the middle, although he'll likely suffer a number of fouls and hard tackles from Diamé, among others. When he has a chance to look up, he should see lanes to send balls in behind for Alexis and Oxlade-Chamberlain to run in on. The fact that he's so thoroughly ambipedal (the term apparently parallel to 'ambidextrous'...) means that defenders will have to be ready for him to slot passes in either direction, and both Alexis and Ox should find themselves with the ball on the edge of the 18 with choices.

Speaking of choices, such passes in will force Chester and Davies into some tough ones. Do they come out to meet the attack? Both Alexis and Ox have the pace and dribble to get past them more often than not. Staying home invites either to have a shot, albeit from a tight angle, or deliver a cross back into the middle. In the air, Welbeck has the height but perhaps not the aerial ability to vie with Chester, Davies, and former Spud Dawson. However, if Cazorla can feed balls to the wings that can then be cut back through the middle on the ground, Cazorla could turn from provider to receiver, collecting a pass to the top of the 18 to test the keeper.

This recipe might result in an assist or two, if not a goal, for Cazorla who, despite having delivered only one assist, has been quietly going about his business and turning in solid but not yet spectacular performances. At a risk of overcommitting myself to specifics, either for the player or the squad, I'd like to predict one assist and one goal for Cazorla. I'm not calling this a cakewalk, but I sense something from this squad, a realiztion or a determination to take these next half-dozen fixtures by the scruff and wring the most from them.

I'd love to see Santi lead that charge.