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Santi Cazorla injury: Mesut Ozil and Arsenal are not as good without him

Arsenal midfielder Santi Cazorla will miss the rest of the season

With Santi Cazorla out for the season, we assess the impact of his absence on Arsenal and, particularly, Mesut Ozil. The stats are revealing, writes Adam Bate.

When Santi Cazorla last played for Arsenal the team was level on points with Manchester City at the top of the Premier League table and three clear of now leaders Chelsea. That the Gunners' fortunes have faltered in the four months since the Spaniard's last game is no coincidence.

Cazorla out for the season
Cazorla out for the season

Arsenal midfielder Santi Cazorla has been ruled out for season with an ankle injury.

It is a long-term feature of life at the Emirates without Cazorla. The 32-year-old midfielder, who has now been ruled out for the remainder of the season, is the man who helps Arsenal function at their best and the effect of his presence on their points total is significant.

Over the past four seasons, Arsenal average 2.15 points in the 85 games in which he has been in the starting line-up compared to just 1.70 points in the 54 games he's missed. For context, last season that would have been the difference between winning the title and finishing in sixth.

Arsenal's points record with Santi Cazorla in the team is far better than without him
Image: Arsenal pick up far more Premier League points when Cazorla is in the team

His impact was as impressive as ever in the early part of the campaign, helping Arsenal win six Premier League games in a row in the autumn. They have not come close to that sort of form since and it's Cazorla's influence on the team's fluency that could explain that.

In particular, it is his effect on Mesut Ozil. Of the nine matches that the two men have started together this season in all competitions, the only one not won was the 1-1 draw at Paris Saint-Germain - and that looks an even better result after Barcelona's efforts there.

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Alan Smith on the challenge facing any Arsene Wenger replacement

Much has been made of Arsenal's midfield being too lightweight but it is the progressive passing that has been a more conspicuous problem. Francis Coquelin does not possess that quality on the ball and that puts a huge onus on his partner to pass through the lines.

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Cazorla can do that and his ability to feed Ozil brings the best out in the German. While he is a player with a knack for finding space in the final third, Ozil still relies on team-mates getting the ball to him on the half turn in those pockets where he can make a difference.

Arsenal's top pass combinations in the Premier League in 2016/17 show the importance of Santi Cazorla in feeding Mesut Ozil
Image: Cazorla's ability to get the ball to Mesut Ozil is an important aspect of his role

Despite completing 90 minutes together only three times in the Premier League, Cazorla's passes to Ozil account for two of the top four combinations that Arsenal have managed in any individual match this season. Indeed, Cazorla found him 26 times in just 67 minutes in the 4-1 win at Hull.

Ozil has come in for plenty of criticism recently and, of course, must take responsibility for his own performances. But it is telling that he has scored more goals in the 490 minutes that Cazorla has been on the pitch than the 1376 in which he he's been out there without him.

Mesut Ozil is more effective for Arsenal when Santi Cazorla is on the pitch
Image: Ozil is a more effective player for Arsenal when Cazorla is on the pitch

The stats show that Ozil gets more touches when Cazorla is around. He gets the ball to him in dangerous areas, such as the pass in the build-up to Arsenal's second goal in the 3-0 win against Chelsea in September. They have not beaten a top-six team since.

"Of course, you miss always Cazorla," said Arsene Wenger after seeing Arsenal fail to score at home to Middlesbrough in October, the team's first game without the little schemer. "From deep midfield into the final third, with his pass he is always quick and accurate."

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That speed of pass in midfield has been a problem for Arsenal ever since and there is little evidence so far to suggest that Mohamed Elneny or Granit Xhaka can provide the solution. With Cazorla linked with a summer move away from the club, that's a major concern.

So while Ozil hesitates to sign a new contract and supporters ponder life without Wenger, there's one man who should not be overlooked. Whether it's the stars, the style, the results or the team, the evidence is all there: Arsenal are just not the same without Santi Cazorla.

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