Originally posted on Goonersphere

It is a common thread of discussion, that if Santi Cazorla had stayed fit last season, we potentially would have had a great chance to overhaul eventual champions Leicester City.

You see, we fans adore the little Spaniard, and for good reason.

Upon first joining, he held the position as the teams Number10, scheming in attack and being the man responsible for breaking deadlocks and defences.

The next season saw what can be perceived as Santi’s biggest test in his Arsenal career. The assist machine, Mesut Ozil, signed for the club, which pushed Cazorla out wide instead of his favoured position. Cue a campaign that saw the diminutive midfielder reach his potential in fits and bursts as he took to the challenge of learning a new role.

Perhaps Santi Cazorla’s biggest moment in an Arsenal jersey (aside from THAT free kick in the Cup Final) was his heroic performance in the Champions League Playoff ties against Besiktas in 2014. 

Injuries, as ever, played their part in a varied lineup which saw the dependable Cazorla named in central midfield. Many worried the small frame of the Spaniard would be overawed by the occasion and the fierce opposition, but the opposite became quickly apparent.

Not only has the former Villareal man got the skills to pay the bills and is truly two-footed – he also has a burning competitive edge and diamond-cut tenacity that saw him break down so many Turkish attacks. He was the link between defence and attack, and converted pressure into breakaways.

Since then, he forged a partnership with Francis Coquelin in the centre of midfield which was watertight, and fans got to see all facets of the precious jewel that is Santi. In the heat of battle in the centre of the park, he is able to utilise all weapons in his arsenal, and the team benefits as a result. 

So much so, that it seems if a poll was taken amongst our fans, it would be a close call who they would choose to partner Granit Xhaka in midfield – Elneny or Cazorla.

At 31, his tenure in central midfield is surely coming to an end, despite his stamina levels being on a par with most in our squad. Injuries have bitten, hard at times, on our beloved Spaniard, and the merciless pace of the Premier League is hardly the most forgiving atmosphere.

Throw into the reckoning that he is now in his final year of his contract, and it can be assumed that Santi may be nearer the exit door than we realise.

At the end of the season, it will be even harder to nail down a spot in our team. If – and this is a gargantuan if – Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey maintain fitness, they will be ahead of Santi in the pecking order, unless Santi chooses a different position.

Even then, there is a huge level of competition in any slot. 

Let us put ourselves in the tiny shoes of Santi. You are thirty two in December. You have been at Arsenal for four years and are playing in your fifth. You are beloved by the fans, but you feel the wear and tear of ferocious battle a little more with each game that passes. 

If a LaLiga team came calling to take you home – wouldn’t you consider it?

He would still acquire a top team if he did decide to return to his homeland, perhaps a Sevilla, Bilbao or a reunion with the Yellow Submarine. The relatively sedentary speed of the game compared to the ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ razor sharp speed of the Premiership must be inviting.

This is all purely conjecture of course. That, and a little dash of sadness. 

The ever-smiling Santi has sprinkled his talent on our side, and is still underrated by many. It may be only when he departs that we may comprehend what a genius we had in our ranks. Just because he doesn’t rifle in 25yard rockets, and doesn’t put in slide-rule passes like they are going out of fashion, doesn’t mean he doesn’t contribute.

His close control, and ability to smoothly transition defence to attack, is second to none, perhaps the best we have had in some time. His footballing brain, and the fact that both feet can wreak just as much damage as the other, are assets that are scarce. 

When the end of the season arrives, Santi may just be forgiven for thinking of going home. He has given us tremendous service.

One thing is for sure, when he does say goodbye, he will be missed. In a footballing sense, and as a professional who gave everything for the club.