Santi Cazorla: Why He Is Key to Arsenal Winning a Title Next Season

Charlie Melman@@charliemelmanCorrespondent IIApril 22, 2013

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 09:  Santi Carzola of Arsenal celebrates after scoring the first goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Sunderland and Arsenal at the Stadium of Light on February 9, 2013 in Sunderland, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Manchester United have clinched their 20th Premier League title with a victory over Aston Villa.

That means Arsenal will be obligated to give the champions a guard of honor when they meet this Sunday. Arseblog News is reporting that the club have yet to make a final decision regarding whether to honor United, but class will probably trump Robin van Persie in the end.

Arsenal's players should be wide awake when they are forced to applaud Sir Alex Ferguson's men onto the pitch—at their own stadium. The embarrassment should fester amongst the men and remain with them throughout next season.

Arsene Wenger, too, will be somewhat humiliated to have to bow to one of his greatest rivals on his own pitch.

Some of that sense of loss will be mitigated by the fact that Arsenal were never really in the title hunt this season. Wenger even admitted that he knew he effectively conceded the title to Manchester United when he sold them Robin van Persie (via Sky Sports).

The chances of United giving Arsenal a guard of honor at this time next season are remote at best.

But, perhaps, with an appropriate amount of investment in the correct areas of the team, the Gunners could mount at least a credible challenge for their first Premier League crown since 2004.

That means the purchase of another good central striker like Christian Benteke, a true defensive midfielder to take some of the burden off Mikel Arteta, a backup goalkeeper and at least one other player to shore up squad depth.

However, taking Manchester United off their perch will require consistently excellent performances from the best players the club already has.

Arsenal are a team that rely heavily on their ability to maintain possession of the ball and precisely slice through defenses with intelligent passing and movement.

When that doesn't work, we see a performance like that against Fulham last weekend, in which the Gunners have over 70 percent of the ball but allow the opposing goalkeeper to eat brunch between the posts.

There are only a few players on the team who are trusted with roles in which they are required to do the hard work of breaking down a resolute defense.

Santi Cazorla is the most important.

The Spaniard is so talented in all aspects of the game that Arsenal have come to depend on him to create many of their chances. He takes corners and free-kicks and can play a devastating through ball—all with either foot.

Like Jack Wilshere, Arsenal's other talisman, Cazorla can dribble his way through a defense and is adept at playing one-twos with wingers like Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

But Cazorla is a goalscorer too. Amazingly, he is Arsenal's top scorer in the Premier League, beating such forwards Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud, who is a striker.

He can also be shifted to the left wing, where, while not nearly as effective as when deployed centrally, he can deliver accurate crosses and drift toward the center when required.

Fans who regularly watch Arsenal play know that Cazorla has a tendency to be everywhere at once and is constantly involved in whatever the Gunners are doing in the final third.

Sometimes, he is not as effective as his ability would indicate. Recently, for example, targeted defending by Fulham and Everton neutralized what is usually Arsenal's most potent threat.

But, all in all, Cazorla has had a highly successful first season in English football.

One can argue that Sir Alex Ferguson would not choose many Arsenal players to replace ones in his current side if he had the chance. The Red Devils are just too good and too deep in too many areas.

Cazorla, with his unique combination of abilities from open play and dead-ball situations, would probably be one of them.

However, even if he finds the best form of his life next season, Arsenal will not be title contenders. Football is a team sport, after all, and there are far too many players in the squad who are both less consistent and less talented than Cazorla in their respective roles.

Thomas Vermaelen, Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud are just a few.

Conversely, if that trio and the new signings that Arsene Wenger will hopefully welcome this summer perform superbly all season, Arsenal will not be able to win the title without the contributions of the man who ties it all together: Santi Cazorla.

That is why he is the one player who is absolutely key to any rebuilding plan Wenger might try this summer. Without him, Arsenal cannot be an elite team.