Arsenal midfielder Santi Cazorla's lengthy absence due to injury is the main reason behind the Gunners' struggle this season, according to their former winger Robert Pires.
The Spain international has made seven starts in the Premier League and the north London club have never lost a league tie when he has started. He last featured in his side's 6-0 Champions League victory over Ludogorets in October. The 32-year-old picked up a knock in his Achilles tendon in the same fixture and has not featured for Arsene Wenger's side since then.
Earlier in December, IBTimes UK revealed Cazorla was advised to go under the knife for Achilles tendon injury. The midfielder underwent a surgery in February and Wenger confirmedhis star player will not feature for this season.
Arsenal are placed sixth in the Premier League table with 60 points from 33 games. They are six points behind Manchester City with a game in hand. Pires claims Cazorla's lengthy option has seen his former club struggling in the league this term.
"Santi Cazorla – his loss really affected this team and I'm sure if we'd have had Santi playing, we'd be much higher up," Pires told bwin.
"He's such a difficult player to replace because technically, he's one of the best players in the Premier League. I know Santi very well, and played with him at Villarreal, and I remember saying 'who is this guy?!'
"He is an exceptionally talented footballer. He's the metronome, he dictates play and can play with both feet, which keeps defenders honest.
"The most important thing is that he can control the ball and the tempo of the team and when you're in a tough situation, he is calm and can keep the team playing."
Arsenal suffered a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur in the north London derby at White Hart Lane on 30 April. The Gunners' latest defeat allows Spurs to mathematically finish above their local rivals, for the first time in the league since 1995.
Wenger's only chance of winning silverware this season is if they defeat Chelsea in the FA Cup final. However, their immediate focus will be finishing the season in the top four. A failure to qualify for the next season's Champions League will be a massive blow for the Emirates club.