Former Arsenal favourite Santi Cazorla has delivered his verdict on Mikel Arteta.
This season, the Gunners’ European qualification once again relies upon their cup hopes, but this time it’s the Europa League, where they trail Villarreal by two goals to one after the first leg of their semi-final.
One player who knows plenty about both Arsenal and the Yellow Submarine is Cazorla, who spent six years in north London and several years with Villarreal across three separate spells.
And ahead of the second leg, Cazorla, who is now with Al-Sadd, has spoken to UEFA, delivering a positive verdict on Arteta amid criticism for the Spaniard this season.
“I think he’s the right man to take the club forward,” he said. “It’s difficult to follow a period like Wenger’s – the club has to adapt to another kind of football, another philosophy, another vision of football.
“He’s got a clear idea of how he wants his team to play, they’re in the semi-finals and they did well in the FA Cup [last season].
“They have been pretty inconsistent but you’ve got to give him time and I think they’re convinced that Mikel can get a lot out of the squad and achieve big things.
“I’m great friends with him and whatever good happens to him and the club I’d be happy for them because I’m a ‘Gunner’.”
Detailing his love for Arsenal, Cazorla added: “I enjoyed myself the most in the Premier League. For me, playing at the Arsenal Stadium every fortnight was wonderful, in front of our fans in such a lovely and amazing stadium.
“It’s something I really miss because it’s a special feeling. I don’t know why the fans have been so good to me as I’ve only done what I did at every club, trying to do things the right way and bringing something to the table, and the love they gave and still give me is priceless. It’s unforgettable and it’s down to them that I’m such a Gunner.”
Cazorla admits he does have split loyalties heading into the second leg, however, having spent around a decade at Villarreal in all, starting as a youngster before returning twice.
“My feelings for both clubs are so huge that it’s difficult for me to choose one or the other,” Cazorla continued. “I would have liked for this tie to be the final as I’d know at least the winner would lift the trophy.
“The feelings are going to be very beautiful but I’ll feel very bad for the team that gets knocked out. The only thing I ask for is that the team that reaches the final wins it.
“I hope I can be there – I’d love to watch the Europa League final live with either team in it and, most of all, to witness the joy of the winner.”
Arsenal were defeated by goals from two less likely scorers in the first leg against the Yellow Submarine with Manu Trigueros and Raul Albiol finding the net.
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But dangerous striker Gerard Moreno did assist a goal, and now with a goal tally of 26 for the season and a goal contribution total of 35 from 40 games across all competitions, Cazorla has warned of the danger the Spain striker poses.
“He is the best forward in Spain right now,” he said. “I’m not saying that just because of the goals he scores. You shouldn’t just look at what he does in the box and the goals he scores for Villarreal, but also what he does outside the box.
“He’s a player who makes a difference, doesn’t need a lot of chances to score goals, and he’s at a point of his career where he’s full of confidence and at his peak, which is ideal in terms of the team being able to achieve its objectives.
“He’s a chilled-out guy, he works hard and he brings a lot to the dressing room as well.”