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Arsenal take on Spanish flavour

Published: Thursday 18 October 2012, 12.31CET
Arsenal FC's best teams under Arsène Wenger have not unnaturally been famed for their French influence but Simon Hart says a Spanish flavour is now key to the Gunners.
by Simon Hart
Published: Thursday 18 October 2012, 12.31CET

Arsenal take on Spanish flavour

Arsenal FC's best teams under Arsène Wenger have not unnaturally been famed for their French influence but Simon Hart says a Spanish flavour is now key to the Gunners.

Arsène Wenger's great Arsenal FC teams of years past had an unmistakably French flavour: think of the powerful Vieira-Petit midfield axis in the 1998 double year; of Robert Pirès's elegant contribution to the 2002 double success; of Thierry Henry and his 228 goals.

Yet right now, Arsenal's football has less of a French than a Spanish influence – it is two Spaniards, after all, who have arguably done as much as anybody to ensure the Gunners have made a positive start to the campaign.

Santi Cazorla, the Spanish international recruited this summer from Málaga CF, has hit the ground running, winning two successive supporters' player of the month awards and attracting plenty of headlines for his creative powers. As for Mikel Arteta, he has shone in a new role as the holding midfielder, still passing the ball with his customary precision but now showing the discipline needed for that deeper position.

According to Stewart Robson, the 1980s Arsenal midfielder-turned-football analyst, Arteta is "more controlled" in the role than the departed Alexander Song was – pretty vital given how quickly Arsenal's full-backs push up the field. His guile compensates for a lack of speed and his sensible distribution is significant too. "He is a good passer, he keeps the play moving, he will link it up, he will make the right choice nine times out of ten," he added.

One telling statistic about Arteta this week is that he has the best passing accuracy (91%) in the opposition half of any player in the Premier League thus far. His figures in Arsenal's Group B wins over Montpellier Hérault SC and Olympiacos FC were impressive too: the 30-year-old had the highest passing accuracy (50 of 57) in Montpellier and played more passes than anybody else against Olympiacos (88 from 102 attempted).

Arteta's quality was never in doubt at Everton FC where he had six fine years, albeit playing arguably his best football in a wide midfield berth. Yet the European spotlight he craved remained elusive for him on Merseyside – spectacular goals against Villarreal CF in a UEFA Champions League qualifier and ACF Fiorentina in a UEFA Cup round of 16 tie both came in painful defeats. Now he has the limelight, even if it seems too late for a Spain call-up.

©Getty Images

Santi Cazorla is an increasingly important figure for Arsenal

As for Cazorla, he is a well-established member of Vicente del Bosque's Spain squad and it is not hard to see why. According to another stat, the 27-year-old has created more scoring chances (21) for team-mates from open play than any other player in Europe's top five leagues this season.

He scores goals too – nine in the Spanish Liga in 2011/12, two already in the Premier League – though Robson is particularly impressed with how he has added "that little bit of penetration to Arsenal's passing game".

He continued: "Football can't just be a passing game, you need players who can go past people with the ball, be it with speed or trickery, change of direction. Cazorla can [do this], not with great speed but just by changing direction, playing one-twos, he is able to get beyond the player he is up against."

It is early days but Arsenal's sparkling Spaniards are providing cause for optimism.

Last updated: 18/10/12 15.39CET

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