Santi Cazorla’s career in an Arsenal shirt came to an end yesterday when it was announced that the Spanish midfielder would be leaving the club.

Cazorla, who joined from Malaga in 2012, made 180 appearances for the club but has not played for the club since October 2016 due to a serious Achilles tendon injury.
It’s an announcement that, while expected, is tinged with sadness among Arsenal supporters, as when he was in full fitness and playing, Cazorla was as good of player as was available for selection.

Scoring 29 goals for the club, he always employed an acute natural ability that seen him marauding by and through premier league sides usingt both of his feet. He was fast – his movement through the middle of the field gave an Arsenal a real outlet; he was the kind of player that he is no-doubt rewarding to have playing behind you as a striker.

So good, was Cazorla during his time in North London, that he made his way into his national team’s midfield between 2012-2015. The Spanish national team have regularly had the best midfield in the world over the past decade, with their free-flowing football turning them into, at-times, an unstoppable force. That’s the kind of standard the 33-year-old was at his best, and he often showed for Arsene Wenger’s team.

Cazorla always came across as very professional, and his sentiments upon leaving are true to form. He said “I am very sad to be leaving after so many great times. I have loved my time with the club. I will always remember the special moments we had together. The FA Cup in 2014 is something we will never forget.” And finished by adding “I am very proud to be part of this club’s history."

The FA Cup final of 2014 that Cazorla mentions in his outgoing message stands out as perhaps the diminutive midfielder’s greatest moment as a Gunner, as he was a big part of the reason that Arsene Wenger’s side were able to win that trophy, even after falling to an early two-goal deficit against Steve Bruce’s Hull City at Wembley.

In his 47th appearance of the season – a sharp contrast to his playing time in the past two years – Cazorla found the net directly from a free-kick to spearhead his side on the way to an extra-time victory against the Tigers.

The 2014 FA Cup wasn’t his only silverware as a Gunner – he also featured in the decidedly easier won final against Aston Villa the following year.

The pair of consecutive FA Cups weren’t the only honours that Cazorla received. After making the move from Malaga to Arsenal during the Summer prior to the 2012-2013 season, Cazorla got off to a whirlwind start at his new club, ultimately winning the player of the season award at Arsenal for his tremendous performances throughout the year.

His final appearance in an Arsenal jersey – and what turned out to be the beginning of his current injury nightmare over the past two seasons – came in the 6-0 victory over Ludogorets Razgrad in October 2016. While providing an assist for a Mesut Ozil goal, he took a kick which injured his achilles tendon.

Standard rehabilitation proved ineffective in the proceeding weeks, and in December of 2016, he underwent suyrgery. This wasn’t to be the only time – he needed to have in total 8 operations on the injury, which was first injured while playing for the Spanish national team in 2013.

Late last year the news emerged that Cazorla was told he would be “lucky to walk again” after contracting gangrene on the affected area, which was subsequently “eating” part of the tendon. A skin graft was required to assist his recovery from this setback – it was a truly awful injury.

Now, no longer bound to London and England, Cazorla is returning to his native Spain and his reportedly set to train with his former side Villarreal, who began his senior career with from 2003 till 2006, and who he had a second spell with from 2007 till 2011.

The decision could ultimately be a good move for both parties. For Cazorla himself, he will get to return to his old club and may be able to play a part as he returns to fitness. Spanish football is generally less physical, so this may suit him considering he has been out for so long.

For Arsenal, there is a big freeing up in terms of wages – around 90 thousand per week reportedly – that can now be deployed elsewhere; most likely for Cazorla’s midfield replacement.

While there was no manager yet in place to comment on his leaving, chief executive Ivan Gazidis summed it up pretty well in saying that “Santi is always one of my favorite players to watch. He plays with a joy and freedom which is very rare.” And concluded by saying “we wish him well for the future and thank him for his important contribution to our club.”

It will be at the behest of the new manager as to who takes the place of the outgoing Spaniard. There are some speculative names being batted around – Piotr Zielinski of Napoli, Max Meyer of Schalke and Isco of Real Madrid, to give a few examples.

Whoever it is, they will have big boots to fill to live up to the Cazorla of old. It is a true shame that Cazorla was so badly injured over the past few seasons, as he still had so much to contribute and really had the ability to light games up when he is on form.

It would be great to see him back playing football again, so hopefully his recovery goes well and he can get back playing over the next few months.