With the terrible news earlier this week that Santi Cazorla may never play another game for Arsenal because of his reoccurring injury nightmare, I felt it only right to use this week’s Arsenal Scrapbook as a tribute to the much-loved Spaniard.
Cazorla joined the club from Malaga for around £15 million in the summer of 2012 following an impressive season with the Boquerones, scoring nine goals and picked up six assists as the team qualified for the UEFA Champions League for the first time.
The diminutive midfield immediately impressed, putting in a man-of-the-match display on his debut against Sunderland and scoring his first goal for the club at Anfield in a 2-0 win over Liverpool.
He continued to score crucial goals, with an absolute screamer against West Ham and a goal in his first North London Derby against Tottenham, all by the end of November.
It wasn’t just goals that were making Cazorla an instant crowd favourite though. His ambipedal ability (two-footedness), coupled with his small frame and quick feet made him a hard player to contain and control. His wonderful range of accurate passing allowed him to dictate games as he quickly became a centre point for everything good that Arsenal did.
Cazorla would go on to score 12 times and rack up 14 assists across all competitions in his first season at the club, playing both centrally and out on the left, demonstrating his versatility.
He also picked up the Arsenal Player of the Season award in his first campaign at The Emirates.
His versatility would be key to maintaining his place in the team, as the arrival of Mesut Ozil early in the 2013/14 season saw Cazorla operate mostly from the left in order to accommodate the then club record signing.
This move out wide did see his numbers drop slightly with seven goals and nine assists across all competition but, he still scored important goals, finding the net against Liverpool and Tottenham once again, while also bagging a brace against Fulham at The Emirates.
However, his most memorable and vital goals came at Wembley.
Cazorla scored the winning penalty against Wigan Athletic in the semi-final to set up a final date with Hull City as the Gunners looked to end their nine-year, 3283 day, 512 match trophy drought.
Shockingly though, Arsene Wenger found his side 2-0 down inside eight minutes, with Wenger hanging on to his job by his fingernails. But then, up stepped Santi Cazorla for a free-kick in the 17th minute.
Curling the ball brilliantly past Allan McGregor in the Hull goal, Cazorla had got Arsenal back in the game. Laurent Koscielny went on to equalise before Aaron Ramsey smashed home the winner in extra-time, ending nine years of trophy-less pain.
Cazorla scored another Wembley goal in the 2014/15 season curtain raiser, slotting home the opening goal in the Gunners 3-0 Community Shield win over Manchester City.
The arrival of Alexis Sanchez saw Cazorla shunted around again for his third season at Arsenal, but he still posted good numbers while also finding his most effective position.
Playing a couple of games on the left at the start of the season, he was moved infield because of the effectiveness of Sanchez, operating as an attacking midfielder in the absence of an injured Ozil, and also a deep lying playmaker.
It was when Francis Coquelin was brought into the team just before the turn of the year that Cazorla began to excel.
The defensive mindset and tough tackling of Coquelin allowed his midfield partner more freedom, with Cazorla able to dictate play from deep and not have to worry as much about defending. This was perfectly exhibited in Arsenal’s 2-0 win away at Manchester City.
The Spaniard scored the opener, assisted Olivier Giroud for the second, all while keeping David Silva quiet. It was truly magnificent midfield display that you will hard be pressed to see bettered.
Other impressive displays that season saw him score and assist and further two in a 5-0 win over Aston Villa, while also picking up the man-of-the-match award in the 4-0 FA Cup final success against the Villains, picking up his second Cup final winners medal in as many years.
He finished the season with eight goals and 15 assists across all competitions.
However, the 2015/16 season saw the injuries hit as he managed just 21 games across all competitions, before picking up an injury in November that ruled him out until the end of the season.
He returned for the start of the 2016/17 season, scoring twice and assisting three goals in his opening 11 games of the season as he showed signs of forming a good partnership with £34 million man Granit Xhaka.
But, an injury against Ludogorets that was expected to rule him out for just three weeks has seen him miss every game since, and Cazorla is unlikely to play again before the new year, or maybe even for Arsenal again.
It is a real shame.
Santi Cazorla is a superb player, a fan favourite, a talent that many did not appreciate until he wasn’t there.
Graceful, skillful, an eye for a pass, a nose for a goal or two and with the most infectious smile you are ever likely to see, the 32-year-old has been truly missed.
As much as he is a fan favourite, he is clearly a favourite in the dressing room. Even though he played no part in the FA Cup success of 2017, Cazorla was given the trophy by his teammates to celebrate with the fans, allowing him a moment to cherish and smile about after such a difficult time in his career.
That difficult time does not appear to be over yet but oh how I would love to see Santi Cazorla in an Arsenal shirt just one more time.
Let’s hope, Gooners, let’s hope.