Arsene Wenger believes Santi Cazorla is playing the best football of his career after a stunning couple of months that has seen him score five times from the centre of midfield.
The 30-year-old Spain international has been hailed in all quarters (Neil ‘7 out of 10’ Ashton aside) for his man of the match showing against Manchester City at the weekend and his manager believes his new position is bringing the best out of him.
“He is a very talented football player,” Wenger told his pre-Brighton press conference. “Since he has played centrally he has taken [his game to] another dimension, because on the flank he was a bit more exposed to things where he was not at his best.
“In the middle of the park, he gets you out of situations where you are under pressure. He is always technically perfect and in our recent games he has certainly been in the best form of his career.”
“Santi is happy to play, every day he is happy to be with the ball and to go out there. He is the perfect example for every young player to follow.”
It remains to be seen whether Santi is called upon for this weekend’s trip to the south coast – there’s a good chance Mesut Ozil will start his first game since October – but if he is given game time he says he’ll relish the opportunity.
Reflecting on last year’s Wembley triumph, the Spaniard said of England’s premiere knockout competition:
“It’s a big, big trophy for all the teams here, and in Spain the Copa del Rey is the same. I have very good memories [of last season’s final] and it was a very good moment for me and for the team. It was my first trophy with the club and I want to get another one this year.
“I think [the free-kick against Hull] was very important because we were losing 2-0 and I could help the team. At half-time it’s different when you get a goal back.”
“I don’t think [there is more pressure this year],” he continued. “We want to win this competition again and this is a very good opportunity for us. We need to play against Brighton away and we can repeat this year with another trophy for the fans and the club.”
In a separate interview on Arsenal.com Santi goes into further detail about the build-up to the epic free-kick that helped spur the Gunners’ comeback against Hull City. It’s a real insight into the detail his manager bestows on his players before kick-off:
“Of course I can still remember the free- kick. Before the match, the boss had told us that their goalkeeper always took a step towards the wall when facing free-kicks, so we’d have a good chance of scoring on the other side. So when I got the free-kick, I saw that side was open and figured I’d trust in the boss! Luckily, their goalkeeper did take a step to the side, so when he reacted he didn’t have time to save it.”
How good is that?