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According to AS, Arsenal midfielder Santi Cazorla could make a sensational return to former side Villarreal this summer, so long as he can prove his fitness.

The 33-year-old left El Submarino Amarillo to join Malaga in 2011, a move which was deemed to be because of dwindling club finances, before joining Arsenal in 2012. And now, seven years after leaving the Estadio de la Cerámica, Cazorla could be set to return.

He hasn’t played a competitive game since injuring his achilles on October 2016 but has recently returned to training and was seen kicking a ball at the Emirates Stadium. The Spanish international could feature in one of Arsenal’s remaining games, likely to be from the bench, which could be his farewell.

Arsenal midfielder Santi Cazorla injured

Arsenal midfielder Santi Cazorla picking up the achilles injury in 2016.

Manager Arsene Wenger is stepping down at the end of the season and Cazorla could be doing the same. The deep-lying playmaker has gone on make 180 appearances in all competitions for Arsenal, contributing 74 goals, and will be remembered as one of the most gifted players Wenger’s ever signed.

It’s been a long road to get Cazorla back out on the pitch – 11 operations over 18 months – but Villarreal president Fernando Roig has reportedly stated that he would like to see the Spaniard back at the club. His Arsenal contract expires in the summer, so Villarreal wouldn’t have to break the bank to procure his signature.

They are currently sixth in La Liga with 57 points from 35 games and look set to be in the Europa League next season. Given the lack of activity over the last 18 months, Cazorla will be very short of match fitness and may struggle for playing time initially.

If he did move to Villarreal, he’d have stiff competition from the likes of Manu Trigueros, Samu Castillejo, Rodri, Javi Fuego and Pablo Fornals next season. It’s worth noting that Cazorla isn’t going to rush himself back to fitness this summer. He still wants to play at the highest level and needs to recover 100%. Losing the midfielder has long been a disappointment of Villarreal’s, as the decision to sell Cazorla was due to economic factors, but they’ve always been hopeful of bringing him back before the end of his playing career.

Arsenal midfielder Santi Cazorla taking a corner kick. Picture: By Ronnie Macdonald

Arsenal could still be interested in tying him down for another season, however. The Gunners may consider keeping the Spaniard if he’s returned to training, and Cazorla’s recent comments to Cadena Ser suggest he’s open to staying, reports the Telegraph.

“My contract ends this summer and no one has told me anything, but it’s normal. I’ve been out of action for so long. I’ve been practically unable to train, and that is my main focus right now.

“I want to gradually train, for (Arsenal) to see me and see how I feel. We shall see what happens in the future. The important thing is for me to return to play, and then we shall see where I play.

“There is still some way to go but I hope I can achieve it. I’m a little bit more optimistic. I’m starting to do things on the pitch. There is still a long way to go and I have to work very hard. Little by little, I hope I can come out of this.”

Even Wenger has spoken of his desire for the Spaniard to earn himself a new Arsenal deal, saying: “I hope that certainly he will come back before the end of the season and we can make a check-up of where he stands.

“Can he play again in the Premier League? I don’t know, I have to see how he responds to his injury.”

It’s clear the door is open for Cazorla to remain at Arsenal. Whether he can recover enough to nail down a starting place remains to be seen but playing time might still allude him at high-flying Villarreal – they are no slouches.

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