Santi Cazorla takes no time to find his talented feet
Arsenal fans are used to waiting for new recruits to settle in but the veteran Spaniard has made himself at home
First impressions can be crucial for a new signing, especially an expensive one from abroad. Given the excellent recruiting record of Arsène Wenger and his chief scout, Steve Rowley, Arsenal supporters are more patient than most, but even for them there is always the fear that £10 million or more may have been spent on another Marouane Chamakh.
So when Santi Cazorla, the chunky little Spanish midfielder signed from Malaga last summer, strode forward within minutes of his debut against Sunderland and hit such a fierce left-footed shot that the keeper was grateful merely to punch it up in the air, the Emirates buzzed with relief.
Accorded a standing ovation every time he took a corner, he was Man of the Match and has been a serious contender in every game since. At Liverpool he made and scored the goals in Arsenal's first win of the season and against Southampton (6-1) and Montpellier (2-1) last week he was outstanding again, the highlight being his link-up play with another of the summer signings, Lukas Podolski.
It could reasonably be argued that as a 27-year-old with 48 caps for a side as gifted as the modern Spain, Cazorla, at an initial £12.7m, hardly represented a gamble. He was never going to be one of those raw youngsters Wenger nurtured before selling on at a huge profit.
The one question, as with every foreign import, was how quickly he would adapt to the rhythms of the Premier League. "We very quickly saw Cazorla was not going to take six months to settle," Wenger said after that Liverpool game. Not even the most optimistic Arsenal fan could have expected anything like Martin Keown's assessment of the new man: Liam Brady and Cesc Fabregas rolled into one.
Between the Montpellier match and today's demanding assignment at Manchester City, Cazorla confirmed how easy it had been to find his talented feet. "I'm finding playing with the team really enjoyable, I like it," he said.
"As a team we can improve on some things. And we'll do that. It's very easy to adapt. The style of football that they have, I like and is good for my style of play. My team-mates support me very well. And so I'm very happy. The fans have been fantastic and I intend to ensure that they are happy with my work. The truth is this has been a fantastic move for me."
He made the switch after a single season at Malaga, the Spanish club having signed him from Villarreal thanks to heavy Qatari investment, which suddenly dried up this summer and led to the coach, Manuel Pellegrini, describing Cazorla's fee as a "giveaway".
He had been very much a Villarreal man, staying for the best part of nine years, and helping them become regular Champions' League contestants – although he was injured for the 2006 semi-final in which Arsenal knocked them out thanks to Jens Lehmann's late penalty save.
Part of adapting to English football is always assumed to be the physical aspect, but Cazorla has not found that a problem, even with his size. "There are lots of small players like David Silva, Juan Mata, myself. The Premier League might be a stronger style, with taller players, but it's not a change. In Spain and in all leagues there are strong players as well.
"You have to adapt to the physical side of the Premier League but I like that. It was never difficult for me, even as a youth. Ultimately football is played with the ball and isn't dependent on your height or strength. I haven't really come across a difference between Spain and England."
The difficulty of an away fixture against the champions is universal. What does he know about Manchester City? "I know they are the favourites, no? They have a really great team, really good players. It's going to be a very complicated game and we're going to have to do things very well, keeping possession, because it will be very, very difficult to pick up points at City's ground."
What he has seen so far from an Arsenal team that has conceded only twice in five games convinces him that they can be serious challengers for the title: "Well, we believe so. Listen, the objective is to fight for it. It's clear there are lots of great teams, not just City. The objective is to win it and be there fighting right until the end."
Financial doping? Mancini defends transfer spending
Manchester City's manager Roberto Mancini has again defended his club's transfer spending against criticism from Arsenal's Arsène Wenger, who has referred to it as financial doping. In a busy summer window, City spent roughly twice as much as they brought in by adding players like Javi Garcia, Jack Rodwell and Scott Sinclair.
"Every team plays with 11 players," Mancini said. "If we want to stay at the top with all of the other teams that have spent a lot of money in the last 10 years – a lot, a lot, a lot – I think that we need to improve sometimes and buy top players." But he admits that Arsenal, who more or less broke even after selling Robin van Persie and Alex Song for £49m, bought well in acquiring Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud.
Manchester City v Arsenal is on Sky Sports 1 today, kick-off 4pm
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