Why I Would Drop Santi For The Final

By Daniel Cowan
In Arsenal
May 27th, 2015

On Saturday Arsenal line-up in their record 19th FA Cup final. A win in this match would see them pull away from Manchester United to become the singularly most successful team in FA Cup history having matched Manchester United’s 11 trophy wins with the victory over Hull last season.


How Arsenal approach this game is going to be interesting. The level of the opposition is arguably not much different from last season but Arsenal are buoyed by better adapted talent, new recruits – including the PFA Fans’ Player Of The Year, and most importantly a trophy winning pedigree.

Last year Arsenal made it into the final with a 9 year old monkey on their back and three failed attempts in cup competitions to throw the monkey playing on their minds. It’s not so this time. Arsenal are the holders. This is their cup and they are not going into this match trying to win it and break their trophyless hoodoo. No, they are going into this match to retain it, and that is an entirely different pressure.

Man for man Arsenal should have no problem in retaining this trophy but Aston Villa are not the same team torn apart by the brilliance of Mesut Özil and co by five goals to nil in February. Tim Sherwood has revitalised Villa and reignited the goalscoring spark in Christian Benteke to make him the form player in the two likely line-ups.

How Arsenal approach this match, and the team the manager picks from the off, will largely determine the rate of success. I’m confident that no matter what Villa throw at us that we have enough to reply with a winning answer but there is always a chance that the long the match goes on without us being in a clear position of authority the more likely it becomes that Villa cause an upset – and the media would love nothing more than to see Arsenal upset at Wembley.

Despite affirmations from Sherwood that his team will play an open, attacking game I believe Aston Villa will adopt the defensive approach that saw us stutter in the last few games. Against Chelsea, Manchester United, Swansea and Sunderland we saw Arsenal suffocated, in part due to their own narrow line-up.

Aaron Ramsey is a fine servant of the club and performs well on the right hand side in certain games, Liverpool and Napoli being two that spring to mind, but against opposition that park the bus it’s a recipe for a snore-draw.


Ramsey’s desire to be involved in play sees him drift inside in search of the ball which when added to Alexis’ propensity for cutting inside overloads our midfield and makes us more likely to lose the ball. We become quite compact and as our opponents set about closing us down quickly we rapidly run out of space causing our combinations and one-twos to break down and turn over possession.

Luckily for Arsenal the high pressing game our opponents play makes it difficult for them to get the ball into wide areas having also made themselves narrow closing us down and it’s too difficult for them to go through the middle as we’re so compact a through ball would likely land at the feet of our centre-backs.

In a way their tactics are counter-productive as they lose possession back to us as quickly as they force us into relinquishing it to them but if you can frustrate Arsenal like that for long enough the evidence suggests they will get sloppier as their frustration increases and that leaves you the chance to deal a killer blow a la Swansea.

I believe this will be the game plan for Aston Villa as in Benteke they have someone with the prowess to take a late, high chance and devastate the Arsenal crowd. The only answer is for Arsenal to play with width and pace and that is one of the reasons I, if I were manager, would start Santi Cazorla on the bench.

Arsenal’s defence pretty much picks itself for this game – there are question marks over whether Szczesny will start the FA Cup final having not played the final game of the season to “warm up” like Fabianski did but let’s just say he will start as the designated Cup ‘keeper – Szczesny, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny and Monreal.

Coquelin is a shoe in and I think it is fair to say Alexis and Özil will play, as will Giroud. There are two spaces left and in that six match run where we had mixed fortunes we saw Cazorla in the box to box role and Aaron Ramsey on the right. It could be argued that this continuity displays a preference and that is what we will see again.


Theo Walcott showed against Manchester United and Sunderland what an attacking threat he could be in this team – quite a different team from the one he last played regularly in – and then against West Brom he proved he still has the goalscoring knack that saw him become our most potent attacking player before his injury against Spurs last January. A lot of people forgot what a player he was but that’s not for now.

Against a team with defensive tactics Theo could be the one outlet they cannot contain with high pressing and bodies behind the ball, in could even play to his strengths. Theo’s ability to run behind defences will give Arsenal’s midfielders a different option to pass to but more importantly his threat as a pacey attack naturally attracts players to him which creates space for others.

Theo Walcott can help Arsenal nullify defensive tactics as his smart movement, wide threat and well-time runs will either see him getting into goal-scoring positions or pulling defenders away from others to do the same.

With Giroud as the spearhead and attacking fulcrum, holding up the ball and playing lay-offs, I think the perfect midfield player to act as his foil is Ramsey. I trust Ramsey to charge into space, take shots from outside the box and make late, incisive runs more than I do Santi.

Cazorla has been immense for Arsenal this season and it may seem harsh to drop him in our biggest match but you have to adapt to the tactics of your opponents and if Aston Villa play a defensive game – and they’d be mad not to – then sacrifices have to be made.

You want your team to be capable of winning you the game from the start but you also need players on the bench who can change a game. We all know Ramsey can dictate play from the middle but he tends to grow into games rather than come on to change them. He improved massively when he came inside against Manchester United but that improvement was already growing on the wing.

Arsenal's Santi Cazorla scores his side's second goal

Santi from the bench is a far more exciting prospect than Theo or Ramsey from the bench. Cazorla has the spark you need to change a game and that spark would be far more effective later in the game against tiring legs than it would be at the start when he finds himself marked out.

The attacking balance we would get from Ramsey in the box to box role and Walcott wide far outweighs the additional creativity you get from Cazorla if we are to face a parked bus. Santi’s quick feet and energetic performances didn’t unpark the Chelsea, United, Sunderland or Swansea buses and that is in part to how closely marked he is, as our creative danger man.

Of course, we could drop Ramsey and still play Theo but if you want to the balance of a winning line-up but also the option of a game changer on the bench should things not quite go to plan then you have to start Ramsey and save Cazorla for the second half.

What team would you play?

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About "" - 509 Posts

I am a South London born Gooner now living in Leigh-On-Sea, Essex. I'm a husband, daddy, podcaster, trainer enthusiast and aspiring author. My work is my passion and for that I will always be grateful. Here is where I write my thoughts and views on Arsenal Football Club, the greatest team the world has ever seen.

16 Responses to “Why I Would Drop Santi For The Final”

  1. JakFact says:

    Drop Cazorla?

    You sir, are a fool.

    Walcott for Giroud, yes.
    Ramsey on the right, yes.
    Wilshere as impact sub, yes.
    Giroud for Walcott if we’re winning, yes.
    The Ox to run them ragged in the last 10mins, yes.
    Cazorla dropped – Hell No!

    • Daniel Cowan says:

      You could have had a decent comment had you not decided to go straight for the puerile insult.

      Ramsey on the right makes us too narrow which would make Walcott a worse option than Giroud up front as he’d be completely marked out. It’s interesting how you want Ox to run them ragged yet his final ball and end product this season has been poor yet you don’t want Santi, who actually has end product, to play that role. Cool. Thanks for the insult, please come again.

  2. Louis Manda says:

    I agree in total with your line up but I would opt to drop Giroud for Theo. Then keep Ramsey in the box to box role along side Francis, throwing Santi to the left side of midfield and Alexis to the right, Ozil in his most effective role. That would give us way too much creativity in the final third.

    • Daniel Cowan says:

      That could work but you’d have to play Santi on the right as Alexis cutting in from the right wouldn’t be as effective for me.

  3. Sean Williams says:

    I really am lost in your reasoning to drop Santi Cazorla. Why drop the man who has made us tick most of the year? He is the man most likely to be involved in producing our goals. Walcott is in form, but Cazorla is in form too. If we want to accommodate Walcott surely the out of form Giroud would be the one to leave out. Giroud could make a great impact sub. Sorry but I just think you are mistaken.

    • Daniel Cowan says:

      Thanks for the comment Sean but the why is quite clear in my piece. Santi is easily marked out when teams are overly defensive against us and he would be more effective as an impact sub than other players would.

      Would you rather we had players who couldn’t change the game on the bench?

      Santi has been superb but it’s about tactics and balance. Look at how ineffective he was in those games where the bus was parked. If Villa do the same he’ll be just as ineffective and it all comes from Ramsey being wide. If you say you’d play Theo wide and drop Ramsey then I can respect that but you need to play Giroud in a game like this, someone needs to hold the ball up.

  4. chetan says:

    I think bellerin will have a tough time if we play Walcott in front of him.. How about Walcott upfront and jack on right wings ? Coq ramsey and Özil in the midfield.. You think this would work ?
    If Giroud is playing upfront then i would like to see Walcott on the right and jack on the bench.

    • Daniel Cowan says:

      I do think Bellerin would find it tough in most games but if they are just defending then it won’t make much difference.

  5. Chetan says:

    Nice post.. I would like to see Walcott upfront and jack on the wings.coq Ramsey and Özil in the midfield.. You think that’s a good option ? If Giroud is playing upfront then Walcott on the wings and jack on the bench..

  6. Gar14 says:

    I have to disagree with you. Santi won’t be dropped and shouldn’t be, in my opinion. He didn’t perform to his best in some of the last few games (not many have) but he’s been superb apart from that and his ability to hold possession while giving us a creative threat makes him one of the first names on the team sheet. He is also one of the leaders in this squad and his experience and cool head will be invaluable.

    I also think Ramsey will start on the right, with Theo and Jack on the bench if/when needed although I guess we could start with Theo up front instead of Giroud but I have my doubts.

    I don’t think Villa will be quite as defensive as Sunderland and Swansea were. They will sit but will probably try to hit us on the break with the pace they have going forward which will give us more space too. Although we weren’t at our best in those two matches, we still had some great opportunities and on another day we win them both easily. Maybe you’re over-analyzing slightly.

    • Daniel Cowan says:

      My thoughts are based purely on Villa being defensive. If we are sure they won’t be then of course Santi starts.

  7. Pubes says:

    I agree with your article, but there is no way AW will drop Santi no way…..
    Ramsey will play on the right, Giroud will start. Theo, Jack off the bench….
    It’s gonna be a thought game on Saturday….

  8. abhi says:

    yes walcott shud be on right atleast for width and counter. he will also track back which he neglects some times and that will give belerin problm.
    why dont wenger start carzola on wing is beyond me instead of ramsey. he was a winger. and ramsey is not effective there.

    imo strongest team now will have walct as strkr, wlshr as no 10, and carzola as rw, and ramsey and coqln at base. ozil will again be a passenger

  9. Gar14 says:

    “My thoughts are based purely on Villa being defensive. If we are sure they won’t be then of course Santi starts.”

    But we can’t be sure. It’s football, we don’t know what will happen until it happens. And either way Santi starts.

    • Daniel Cowan says:

      I think we can be pretty sure that they will be. And if they are I think Santi would be more effective playing against tired legs and adding some extra sparkle than he would against 11 bus drivers.

  10. John says:

    Theo is probably our biggest big game player. He is a completely unique player who relishes deep defenses and games spread across the whole width of the pitch. I would definitely start him wide right (especially seeing as we aren’t playing against a threat like Hazard at LW). I’m glad I’m not the man who has to decide Ramsey or Santi though. The latter has been wonderful this season but the former provides a really good balance and has good rapport with Giroud, Ozil and Walcott. So for me, it’s Ramsey. Just.

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