- Adapted from Daily Mail
The long list of Arsenal exiles is familiar not just to supporters. Even new signings at the club are well used to enquiries about the departures of Robin van Persie, Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Gael Clichy and Alex Song. And the seven-year wait for redemption in the form of a trophy is also a recurring lament.
So when the question comes, Santi Cazorla is well prepared. Arsenal take on Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium in what will be seen as a reality check for their early-season optimism. Can a club who have been shedding star players at the rate Arsenal have be truly competitive, especially against the Premier League champions with an unlimited budget?
Cazorla, though, offers fresh hope. ‘Well, I believe it was a number of things [that caused them to switch teams]: they had good offers and, in the end, they decided to change teams. I believe that things are positive at Arsenal, that we are capable of fighting with those teams. Of course, Arsenal haven’t won anything for many years but I believe that Arsenal always show passion and are a team of winners.
‘We want to challenge for the title, hopefully. The objective is to fight for it. It’s clear there are lots of great teams, not just City — there are also Manchester United, Liverpool, despite the fact they haven’t started so well, Tottenham, Chelsea. There are a lot of teams challenging, no? The objective is to win it and be there fighting right until the end, to have the chance of winning it.’
One of the key reasons why this may be more than the usual fighting talk is Cazorla himself. Lukas Podolski has made a huge early impression and the form of last season’s recruits, Per Mertesacker and Mikel Arteta has been hugely significant but none has the transformative ability of Cazorla on a game.
Wenger usually blanches when comparisons are made with Fabregas, so highly does he regard his former player. With Cazorla, he has no such reticence. ‘He is that player,’ says Wenger. ‘He has that quality.’
Cazorla, himself, resists praise. The Arsenal staff have already noted he is always smiling and he seems an unlikely personality in the sometimes brutal world of football. He has said in the past that he is sometimes too innocent in his dealings with people and he seems exceptionally open and amicable.
His instinctive modesty was nurtured in the small village of Lugo de Llanera, a rural enclave of around 2,000 inhabitants sandwiched between the cities of Oviedo and Gijón in Asturias, northern Spain, where, as a child, he met his partner, Ursula Santirso, with whom he has a two-year-old son.
Perhaps it is due to the fact that he has only now, at the age of 27, been recruited by one of Europe’s major teams. By contrast, Fabregas was a star at 17, while even at 21 Cazorla was sent by Real Villarreal on loan into the depths of Andalucía in southern Spain, at Recreativo de Huelva, which hardly seemed a promising career move at the time.
But it is there that he says he matured as a person, thrived as a player, was recalled to Villarreal and soon after elevated to Spain’s Euro 2008
But it is there that he says he matured as a person, thrived as a player, was recalled to Villarreal and soon after elevated to Spain’s Euro 2008 national squad, playing key parts in that triumph, scoring a penalty in the quarter-final shoot-out with Italy and coming on in the final.
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