Arsenal admitted some unwelcome injury news on Thursday regarding their influential central midfielder Santi Cazorla. The diminutive Spaniard is to be out for around two to three months with an ankle injury. He is due to have surgery in Sweden before beginning rehabilitation.

The Gunners will be concerned that a trend seems to be developing with 31 year-old Cazorla. He has already been out of action since a 6-0 home win against Ludogorets in the Champions League. Sadly, he also spent long spells on the touchline last season thanks to a knee problem.

Despite his injury issues, there is no hint of Arsenal cutting their losses and releasing Cazorla. He is simply too important to the team.

Cazorla a big miss

The statistics show just how important Cazorla is to Arsenal’s title hopes this season. Since August 2014, the Gunners have won nearly two-thirds of Premier League games with him in the team. During his absence, that proportion drops alarmingly to 41%.

Cazorla was initially signed by manager Arsène Wenger from Spanish side Malaga in 2012 as an attacking midfielder to be used either behind a striker or on the wing.

But he has produced his best performances as a deep lying central playmaker. He was initially switched to that position in 2014, which coincides with those astonishing stats showing how vital he has become to the Gunners.

It is not as if Arsenal are short of central midfielders. Granit Xhaka, Francis Coquelin, Mohammed Elneny and Aaron Ramsey are all accomplished players, so Wenger is highly unlikely to invest in cover for Cazorla in January.

As he rightly points out, it is hard to see a player with Cazorla’s creative ability appearing on the market mid-season.

Arsenal fans still lament Cazorla’s injury issues last season. The stats suggest the Gunners would certainly have run Leicester a lot closer in the title race.

This season, Arsenal’s form has predictably suffered since Cazorla’s last game against Ludogorets.

Prior to that night, the Gunners had won six Premier League games in a row, with Cazorla starting in central midfield on each occasion. However, that run ended immediately in his absence with disappointing 0-0 draw at home to Middlesbrough.

Further draws against Tottenham and Manchester United have seen them slip to fourth in the Premier League. The Gunners have also been overtaken in the Champions League following a 2-2 draw with PSG, a game in which they were comprehensively outplayed by the French champions.

Crucial games ahead

While those results hardly represent a collapse in form, they have left Arsenal in a delicate spot ahead of a critical period in the season. They are likely to finish runners up in their Champions League group, so will have to rely on a favourable draw to have a good chance of progressing beyond the last 16.

Meanwhile, a stuttering performance in midweek at home to Southampton saw them crash out of the EFL Cup.

The Premier League remains the number one priority for Arsenal fans, however, and the Gunners are well-placed. They sit just three points off leaders Chelsea, who face third-placed Manchester City on Saturday lunchtime. Arsenal meanwhile make the short journey to West Ham, who have struggled so far this season in their new home at the Olympic Stadium. A win on Saturday evening could close the gap on teams above them.

In fact, seven out of the next ten games up until the end of January see Arsenal against sides in the bottom half of the table. That represents a major opportunity for the Gunners to put themselves in a position to challenge for the title. But they will have to seize that chance without Cazorla, who is set to return in February at the earliest.