By Andy Sixsmith
His arrival in August was hailed as a huge statement of intent from Arsene Wenger, a stellar signing who would become one of the stars of the season.
Many eyed Santi Cazorla as the man who would finally fill the shoes of the much missed and still loved Cesc Fabregas in Arsenal’s midfield.
And so it has proved so far this season, with the diminutive Spaniard turning in displays of the highest class, of match winning quality, notably in tricky away tests against Liverpool and West Ham.
Only two months into the season though, the importance of those effervescent performances was never more stark than in the 1-0 defeat to Norwich at Carrow Road on Saturday night.
Cazorla was simply not at his elegant, fluid best, too often fading out of a game that Arsenal were expected to win and win comfortably.
And this lethargy appeared to spread through the team, indicating Arsenal are starting to become as reliant on the 27-year-old as they have been in the past on Fabregas and Robin van Persie.
Cazorla’s role as the midfield creative hub has been much vaunted so far this season, his sparkling displays praised and effused over from all departments.
But should he fail to perform, as he did at Carrow Road on Saturday evening, there is a feeling that true to the chain reaction, Arsenal will suffer too.
Arsenal are far from a one man team, as they weren’t at the height of Van Persie’s or Fabregas’ powers, but the fact that all of the Gunners’ attacks go through the Spaniard means there will be many more blunt offensive displays in future should he fail to perform as he did against Norwich.
The summer signing from Malaga cannot solely be blamed for Arsene Wenger’s side failing to win against the Canaries. After all, there were 10 other players on the field, all allegedly of international quality.
| PLAYER RATING | SANTI CAZORLA
|The Spaniard always wanted the ball and generally used it well, while also produced some brilliant touches, but in terms of creating chances he was quiet and his set-piece deliveries were disappointing.|
Arsenal’s attack too, was lethargic, too often lacking the early season co-ordination that has seen many tip the club as dark horses for the title, with Olivier Giroud still working hard to show that he is not an expensive flop and Gervinho once again producing an erratic and frustrating 90 minutes.
Much of this attacking bluntness can be attributed to Cazorla’s off night. Such is the importance already of the midfielder to the Arsenal side that his match displays have become conducive to the team’s productivity up front – a slightly worrying reliance if the club are going to end their seven-year wait for silverware.
|NORWICH WERE BETTER - WENGER
|14/1||Arsenal are 14/1 with bet365 to win the Premier League
Such was the desperation for creativity against Norwich that cries for Jack Wilshere’s introduction into the fray were made as early as the 45 minute mark.
The fact that he was so badly needed, despite still finding his way back to fitness after a 14-month injury absence, was indicative of the emphasis placed on Cazorla’s shoulders at such an early stage in his Arsenal career.
Wilshere’s eventual return will of course boost an Arsenal side not lacking in midfield options, his creativity and drive a mouth-watering addition to the Cazorla factor in the Gunners’ starting XI.
And with the England international’s return should come less of a reliance on the Spaniard – a back-up plan should Cazorla fail to fire in future.
Wenger is right to ease Wilshere back into action carefully, owing to his recent injury nightmare, but even the studious Frenchman will be worried at the immediacy with which some of his players looked to Cazorla to take control of Saturday’s match as he has done so many times already since his arrival.
Arsenal fans though, will hope his lethargy and lack of dynamism against Norwich was a one-off, a blip on an otherwise blistering start to a Premier League career that promises much.
And regardless of the reliance placed on him by his team-mates, there is still plenty of time left this season for Cazorla to show he is truly the man to replace Fabregas at the Emirates Stadium.
Follow Andy Sixsmith on