Santi Cazorla hadn’t played for nearly two years when he was released by Arsenal in 2018 – but there wasn’t a Gunners fan out there who wasn’t sad to see him leave.
Cazorla’s last appearance for Arsenal came in October 2016, after which he underwent several operations and even needed a skin graft from his arm to help repair an Achilles injury.
Yet he still left supporters with plenty of wonderful memories.
Before we realised what a wonderful man he was too, Cazorla immediately captured our hearts by showing what a wonderful footballer he is.
The former Spain international arrived at Arsenal as an attacking midfielder and was always a threatening, incisive player, ending his debut campaign at the Emirates with 12 goals and 14 assists.
But then Mesut Ozil signed so Cazorla moved out wide and quickly mastered that role too, scoring a goal with each foot in a glorious performance against Fulham and generally being as brilliant as ever.
But it was in Cazorla’s third year, when he was moved into a deeper role, that he perhaps proved his class more than ever, dictating play and controlling the tempo of the game like a puppet master pulling the strings.
He just doesn’t score bad goals, look.
Also, he celebrates them by kissing his children’s names, which he has tattooed on his wrists. Just lovely.
FA Cup hero
Arriving at Arsenal while the club were in the midst of a lengthy trophy drought, Cazorla played a key role in two of their FA Cup triumphs.
With Arsenal 2-0 down against Hull City in 2014, it was the little magician who stepped up to score a sublime free-kick to drag his side back into the game, and a year later he won the Man of the Match award as they thrashed Aston Villa in the 2015 final.
Santi Cazorla’s free kick vs Hull (13/14) pic.twitter.com/vlwN59YqXA
— AllArsenal 🔴⚪️ (@allarsenalnews) September 17, 2016
The North London Derby
We can’t quite imagine Cazorla singing along to We Hate Tottenham or leading some anti-Spurs chant, ala Jack Wilshere, he’s just too damn nice, but the Spaniard proved he Gets It in his first North London Derby back in 2012.
After Emmanuel Adebayor had put Tottenham in front at the Emirates, Cazorla was at the heartbeat of Arsenal’s comeback, scoring one himself and providing the assist for another as the Gunners triumphed 5-2, with the midfielder winning the Man of the Match award
Unlike others, Cazorla almost always turned up in the big games. Who could forget his performance in the 2-0 win at Manchester City in 2015?
He turned down Real Madrid
Part of the charm of Cazorla came in that, before he arrived at Arsenal, he had not played for any of Europe’s biggest clubs.
Instead, he had built his reputation at Recreativo Huelva, Villarreal and Malaga. In his only season at Recreativo he helped the side finish eighth in their first season after relegation, while he appeared in the Champions League for the latter two.
Cazorla’s performances in Spain caught the eye of Real Madrid, but he rejected Los Blancos in 2008.
“There are many other things in football besides Real Madrid,” he said at the time. “It’s clear that it is possible to say ‘no’ to them, there is no doubt that they are a great team, but I also feel very satisfied and valued at my club.”
He added: “I hope I can continue growing at Villarreal because I am young and I’m only starting off with the national team.”
What is the meaning of life? Is there life after death? What are you going to get in your meal deal at lunch?
Some of life’s big questions, but right up there has to be asking whether Cazorla is right or left-footed.
Arsene Wenger himself tried to answer this, but even the Arsenal boss sounded unconvinced: “He is right-footed but when you watch him play you don’t know.”
‘Why do you smile so much?’
Cazorla is up there with the nicest, most likeable footballers in the game.
When asked by Arsenal’s official website why he always smiles so much, his answer was simple: “Because I’m always happy.”
His battle against injury
Cazorla had to undergo nine operations on an Achilles injury – at one stage there were even fears he may need to have his foot amputated due to an infection.
“It’s very sad. What Santi has gone through is unbelievable. It’s really, really sad,” Wenger said.
But Cazorla kept on fighting, kept on smiling, and in 2018 he returned to Villarreal with remarkable effect. In his 2019-20 swansong with the Yellow Submarine he was described by Sid Lowe as La Liga’s “outstanding midfielder” of the season.
The 37-year-old is yet to hang up his boots and is now laying for Al Sadd in Qatar.