Santi Cazorla says Arsene Wenger offered him return to Arsenal before manager's exit
The 34-year-old is currently thriving with Villarreal, after recovering from a horror ankle injury which nearly prevented his from walking again - let alone playing football.
He ruptured his Achilles tendon in October 2016 while assisting a goal in Arsenal's 6-0 Champions League win over Ludogorets, which turned out to be the Spaniard's last appearance for the Gunners after his ankle got infected during the rehabilitation process.
After more than 18 months on the sidelines, Cazorla was eventually released by Arsenal – and the fact he never appeared for the north London club again is still an experience which pains him today.
“It was a little bit frustrating for me not to play for Arsenal again, because I love that club,” Cazorla tells FourFourTwo in our January 2020 issue – an awards special out in shops on Tuesday.
“When I was doing my recovery, a lot of my team-mates would message me - the Spanish players like Nacho Monreal and Hector Bellerin, but also Per Mertesacker and Danny Welbeck, who are all lovely people.
“They sent me a text every week saying, ‘How are you? How is the injury? We miss you on the pitch.’
“I loved playing at the Emirates, so it was hard to say goodbye without playing there.”
In fact, Cazorla’s final experience on the Emirates pitch was not picking up that injury against Ludogorets – the Spaniard took a major step in his recovery by training on the pitch just hours before Arsenal’s Europa League semi-final draw with Atletico Madrid.
The Spanish schemer has joked that Wenger even gave him the option to play in that game.
He says: “Just before the semi-final against Atletico Madrid, I called Arsene and said, ‘Boss, can I train at the Emirates just before the game?’. The first thing he said was, ‘You can play!’
“I said, ‘No I can’t play, only training my friend! I need to train here at the Emirates, just for one day. I need to feel the stadium again.”
Cazorla revealed the gratitude he has for Wenger's support during his spell on the sidelines, and even predicted he would have stayed at the club had the legendary French manager not left in the same summer.
“If Arsene had stayed, maybe I would have stayed at Arsenal for one more year," he tells FFT.
“But there were a lot of changes that year, a new coach [Unai Emery], new people working in the club, so I understood the possibility that I might have to leave.”
Read the full interview with Santi Cazorla in the January 2020 issue of FourFourTwo magazine, out in shops and available digitally from Tuesday, December 17. Our belting awards special features a return of our 100 Best Players in the World list, plus exclusive interviews with Megan Rapinoe, Brendan Rodgers, Vincent Kompany, Gilberto Silva, Teemu Pukki, Wesley and many more. We also find out how Lyon Feminin became the most dominant side in world football, remember a mad decade of fun and visit Japan to find out more about their very own Barcelona-lite, Vissel Kobe.