Santi Cazorla has featured in more Premier League matches than any other Arsenal midfielder this season. The only top-flight fixture the Spaniard missed was when he was an unused substitute for the 2-2 Emirates draw with Manchester City in September.
He completed 153 passes in the Gunners’ recent goalless draw with Sunderland, the most by a single player in a single Premier League match this season, while his 11 assists is a total that can only be bettered by Cesc Fabregas.
The thought of Arsene Wenger leaving Cazorla out of the Arsenal starting line-up against Aston Villa in the FA Cup final would seem ludicrous, but there are grounds to suggest that this could be a productive ploy.
It is 3/10 that Cazorla starts the Wembley showpiece.
Into six starting roles in midfield and attack, Wenger is going to have to leave out two of Cazorla, Francis Coquelin, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud.
Coquelin seems a shoo-in as the defensive lynchpin, especially given his ability to make interceptions and steal back possession. Furthermore, Aston Villa’s propensity to get the ball forward quickly to Christian Benteke suggests that a midfielder high on positional discipline would help act as a screen to limit passes into the Belgian.
Cazorla has starred alongside Coquelin numerous times this season, most famously in the 2-0 victory at the Etihad over Man City.
However, his biggest strength is his two-footedness and ability to recycle possession.
Only Fabregas and Yaya Toure have played more successful passes in the top-flight this season and Cazorla trumps both in terms of the accuracy of his pass percentage.
But this is not going to prove the deciding factor in whether Arsenal lift the FA Cup.
As well as attempting to locate Benteke quickly, the Aston Villa midfield is about high energy, especially with Fabian Delph and Tom Cleverly excelling in terms of ground coverage.
Where Cazorla can fall a little short is an unwillingness to get ahead of the ball, which is something that is also true of Mesut Ozil.
If Arsenal start with Coquelin, Cazorla and Ozil in the central areas behind Giroud, there is a real pressure on Sanchez to attempt to stretch play in behind.
Tim Sherwood has a greater focus on attack than defence at Villa and Sadio Mane and Shane Long recently proved for Southampton that playing on the shoulder of Villa’s defenders and generally being a nuisance in the final third can reap rich dividends.
Therefore, the Gunners may be best to start Ramsey alongside Coquelin and Wilshere off the right flank.
It is Ramsey’s work off the ball that sets him apart, almost like a younger Frank Lampard given his enthusiasm to get into opposition penalty boxes. He offers something different.
Wilshere is more direct than Cazorla too, looking to goad defenders towards the ball with his close dribbling ability and become involved in one-touch, give and go, creative triangles to unlock defences.
Both he and Ramsey are interchangable and it is their attributes that may pose the bigger threat to Villa, particularly if Ashley Westwood gets the nod in the deepest midfield position ahead of Carlos Sanchez, who is less secure in possession but more capable with his defensive duties.
Ramsey is 5/2 to score in the 90 minutes and he stands out as an attractive price.
Despite all of this, Cazorla is pretty much guaranteed to start, but if adopting his normal stance, Villa may manage to frustrate if maintaining their defensive shape. Ramsey and Wilshere would pose a trickier problem to keep quiet.