You couldn’t help but feel there was something ominous about the lack of information surrounding Santi Cazorla’s ongoing absence from the Arsenal squad these last few weeks
As the games went by, and Arsene Wenger gave rolling injury updates, there was seldom much mention as to the nature of extent of the little Spaniard’s injury, and, more importantly, when he was expected to be back.
So, with the news this afternoon that Santi has undergone surgery on his ankle, the reason for that lack of information becomes obvious. The early prognosis is that he could face up to three months on the sidelines.
By any measure, this is a hefty blow for the squad, not least because the statistics show that we perform so much better with Cazorla in the team than we do without him. On the back of a pretty lousy night in the EFL Cup on Wednesday, this has turned into a bad week for the Gunners.
It also has horrible shades of last season when both Cazorla and Alexis Sanchez were sidelined at a similar stage of the campaign, albeit the latter for a much shorter period.
Santi brings something to the team that makes it more effective and more dynamic. His central role in how we operate is recognised and valued by fans and players alike and it became clear just how much we missed him as our season faded away badly after Christmas in 2015/16.
And, since his injury back in October, we have once again seen the team struggle to find top form. We have simply been unable to get hold of the ball in midfield and control the game, as has been our trademark for so long. Without Santi, the ball seems to get stuck in deep midfield and our threat, our dynamism, and our passing suffer.
We don’t seem to be able to get the ball through the lines and bring the likes of Mesut Ozil into play, while Sanchez finds himself dropping deep to pick up possession.
This season, unlike the last, we have the quality of playing personnel to be able to cover Santi’s absence, of that I have no doubt, but what is proving difficult is to find the right combination of players and the right balance to bring the sort of cohesion that the European Championship winner brings.
Wenger has experimented at length this last month to establish the right mix in midfield, but it still feels as if we are a little unsure. That cannot continue.
For a team in the sort of rut that we are, this fresh piece of bad news is unwelcome. Confidence seems to be very fragile at the moment and we go from game-to-game with little consistency and with even less idea of what to expect.
But we have to remain focused on staying in the fight, and on coming up with a solution to fill the Santi-sized void in the squad, so that, if and when he returns, we are well placed to exploit the quality that he brings.
Fingers crossed for the maestro’s swift recovery.