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Santi Cazorla move provides Arsenal vindication, heightens questions of Malaga

santi cazorla

DONETSK, UKRAINE - JUNE 23: Santi Cazorla of Spain runs with the ball during the UEFA EURO 2012 quarter final match between Spain and France at Donbass Arena on June 23, 2012 in Donetsk, Ukraine. (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)

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Last summer, Spanish international Santi Cazorla was sold by cash poor (and now, relegated) Villarreal to Malaga, a move that was considered a huge coup for the Andalusians. Expected to develop into one of Spain’s big spenders, Manuel Pellegrini’s club had purchased the player most felt the best outside of FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. Former teammate Giuseppe Rossi also had rights to that title, but with the Italian striker recovering from a knee injury, Cazorla was the best you could get within La Liga without buying from the big two.

Now Cazorla is gone, his move to Arsenal confirmed this morning. Whereas the now 27-year-old moved to Malaga for $26.1 million, the Gunners were able to grab him for $23.5 million. What happened?

Cazorla’s on field play did nothing to decrease his value. He led Malaga to a fourth-place finish and a chance to play their way into UEFA Champions League. With that potential cash boon adding to ownership’s assumed riches, it was thought Malaga would make a push - make more Cazorla buys rather than sell their best player, a man who tallied nine goals last season from an attacking midfield position.

As much as this is a great get for Arsenal (which we’ll get to, in a second), it raises questions of Malaga. There seem to be two, perhaps not mutually exclusive, factors:

  • First, enticed by Arsenal’s call, Santi Cazorla’s mind was already gone. He had agreed to personal terms two weeks before the deal was finalized. Perhaps this is a case of a club like Malaga being able to buy players but unable to buy respect. The opportunity to play for Arsenal was still too prestigious.
  • Second, and Manuel Pellegrini hinted at this throughout July, Malaga lacks investment. For all the money the team’s supposed to have, none is showing up, something that’s since been confirmed beyond Pellegrini’s hints. Malaga sadly needed the cash infusion. The sale was confirmation that a Spanish juggernaut to rival Paris Saint-Germain, Anzhi Makhachkala, and Manchester City is not coming. Instead, we may see more people (possibly Pellegrini) going.

Arsene, Arsenal’s philosophies vindicated?

The circumstances created a scenario that justified Arsenal’s transfer philosophies in the same way Andrei Arshavin’s similarly priced move looked like a coup two-and-a-half years ago. Then, Arsene Wenger waited out the market and got Arshavin for $23.5 million - the same club record price they’re paying for Cazorla. Whereas coming of Euro 2008 Arshavin was being linked with high priced moves with almost every big club in Europe, Arsenal waited for the market to come to them and bought a bargain in January 2009.

For a club with Arsenal’s resources, those tactics are contentious ones, particularly among Arsenal fans. The philosophy means they miss out on a number of players who would otherwise love to move to the Emirates. They bargain hunt even when they’ve cashed in on players like Emmanuel Adebayor or Cesc Fabregas. Sometimes they find gems (Mikel Arteta). Sometimes, the dice come up sevens (thus far, Per Mertesacker), though even in those purchases, the money saved is for a rainy day. And when they spend big - on an Arshavin or Cazorla - they’re probably buying wisely.

There’s this thought that because they aren’t keeping up with teams spending from bottomless pockets, Arsenal’s on the wane - that their self-imposed limitations are pulling them toward the middle of the Premier League. Amid this clamor it’s easy to forget: The Gunners finished third last year, one spot better than the previous season. They did so in what was supposed to be a regrouping phase, the year after they lost Fabregas and Samir Nasri.

They may yet lose Robin van Persie, but consider who they have left: Mikel Arteta, Olivier Giroud (bought from Montpellier), Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Andrei Arshavin, Gervinho, Lukas Podolski (brought in from Koln), Tomas Rosicky and Aaron Ramsey. Oh, yeah, they still have Nicklas Bendtner, Marouane Chamakh, Park Chu-Young, and eventually, they’ll have Jack Wilshire back. That group may not be the equal of Manchester City’s, but it’s in the discussion. Ever club should envy that depth, even if much of it is superfluous.

Cazorla will be a key to the group. Whereas over the last few years Wenger’s had to rely on players like Rosicky and Ramsey more than he’d ideally want to, Cazorla allows Wenger to shift players around and replace some of their playing time with Cazorla - a world class player who fits Arsenal’s preferred style. He is somebody whose skills fit perfectly into the Gunners’ possession game, not only matching Arteta’s efficiency playing the ball on the ground but adding some ambition that should make Arsenal more prolific in the final third.

His acquisition is not enough to lift Arsenal to the level of the Manchesters, but it will keep them relevant in all competitions. Compared to what Chelsea, Tottenham, and Liverpool have done, Gooners should be confident to staying in England’s top four.

Adding Giroud, Podolski and Cazorla without acquiescing to the game’s financial arms race should give fans a renewed faith in Arsens Wenger’s philosophies. Now if the team could deliver a trophy or two, all would be perfect in Arsenal’s world.