Arsene Wenger has revealed he had serious doubts over whether Santi Cazorla could succeed in the Premier League.
The diminutive Spaniard had almost no reputation in Great Britain before Arsenal agreed to pay a club record £15million to sign him from Malaga in 2012, but he has gone on to become a key player in Wenger's team.
Standing at a mere 5ft 6in, Cazorla did not seem to have the physical frame to succeed in English football, and has since proved all his doubters wrong. For the first time, Wenger admits that he too held those same reservations before bringing him to north London.
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“You could question whether he was physically equipped to play in the tough Premier League,” he told Arsenal Player. “It's true that I had that doubt, but his quality was so big that I was ready to take that gamble.
“His technical quality, his right foot, left foot, his availability, his vision and the quality of his passing made me go for it.
“I thought, 'If there is a team in the Premier League where he has a chance to make it, it's with us.' That's why I went for it.”
“I think I first saw him when he was about 20 or 21. He was not a regular player, but in some games we watched you could see he had talent"
Pires the scout
Arsenal fans know that Wenger tends to be averse when it comes to risk, so they have former star Robert Pires to thank for convincing their frugal Frenchman to take a punt on Cazorla.
Wenger said: “I think I first saw him when he was about 20 or 21. He was not a regular player, but in some games we watched you could see he had talent.
“After that, Robert Pires moved to Villarreal and played with him. Sometimes I asked Robert, ‘Are there any good players there?’
“He said to me straight away, ‘Cazorla is a fantastic player’. So Robert was a scout for me! He at least confirmed the impression I already had about Santi.”
Cazorla arrived at Arsenal as an advanced midfielder, but has since adapted his game to play in a much deeper role. After less than a season alongside Francis Coquelin, the 30-year-old is already completing more passes than any other midfielder in the league.
EA Sports compiled data from all of this season's games and found that Cazorla had made 589 successful passes, 63 more than his nearest competitor, Cesc Fabregas.
Data courtesy of the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index, the official Player Rating index of the Barclays Premier League