Stats: The numbers that prove Santi Cazorla IS a 'big game' player

When the time has come to face off against top competition this term, how has Santi Cazorla fared?

In Arsenal’s successful campaign the 29-year-old has been a near-constant in making 19 Premier League starts, overwhelming deployed to Mesut Ozil’s left in Arsene Wenger’s attacking midfield trident.

He’s earned plaudits for his displays as a crucial cog in a Gunners machine that sits just a point off the summit ahead of the stretch run, though hasn’t been exempt from criticism - much like his German team-mate.

The Spaniard’s presence in big games was given the dreaded questioning in January by Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville following his three-point grabbing brace against Fulham - the ex-Manchester United man expressing worry about his ability to influence proceedings out wide.

Part of Neville’s concern stemmed from the level of defensive cover Cazorla is capable of providing against more threatening opponents, but to be rather direct, it’s his contributions going forward that are most important to the north London club’s cause.

So how do his performances in so-called big games stack up in relation to those of a lower profile?

Statistically speaking, they’re not too far off.

Facing Liverpool (twice), Manchester United (twice) and Tottenham, Cazorla has amassed a pass accuracy of just over 85% - averaging a tick under 80 touches per outing, 3.6 passes into the penalty area and 1.6 chance assists that successfully pick out a team-mate.

NameOn target Att Assist / appsPen Area Entries / appsTouches / appsPass AccuracyAppsMins
Santiago Cazorla 1.60 3.60 79.80 85.26% 5 432

Contrast this with the same mean metrics from his remaining 15 appearances - 86.5% pass accuracy, 81 touches, 4.47 penalty area entries and 1.33 on target assists - and it becomes clear that his attacking impact is relatively steady against all comers.

NameOn target Att Assist / appsPen Area Entries / appsTouches / appsPass AccuracyAppsMins
Santiago Cazorla 1.33 4.47 81.07 86.5% 15 1,197

Three of the four numbers register slightly higher when Cazorla takes to the pitch against lesser opposition - a phenomenon not too surprising considering better teams will naturally be more difficult to break down.

It’s important to point out, however, that the Spaniard hasn’t yet tried his hand opposite Chelsea and Manchester City - England’s two most miserly defences, Arsenal excluded - in league play, so the sample isn’t necessarily complete.

Yet still, the signs are there that Cazorla’s level doesn’t drop off in big games, if anything it’s remarkably even.

He was arguably Arsenal’s best in what was holistically a dour showing on Wednesday at home to United, and with remaining games against Chelsea, Spurs and City - and a pair of Champions League contests with Bayern Munich - he will have ample opportunities to further his case.

Some hefty examinations are yet to come but judging on the stats the playmaker is certainly up to the task, so perhaps dismissing his effectiveness on momentous occasions has been a bit premature.

images:, © Ronnie Macdonald

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