I left Arsenal with Mikel Arteta and owe them a lot - now I'd play for free

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta
Mikel Arteta left a big impression on one of his former teammates -Credit:Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

Arsenal fan favourite Santi Cazorla has revealed just how much attention to detail his former teammate Mikel Arteta paid during their time at the club. The pair played 98 times together for the Gunners over five years in north London but have gone on contrasting journeys since leaving.

Cazorla, 39, is three years younger the current Arsenal head coach but isn't showing signs of slowing down. Already on his third club since leaving the Emirates Stadium in August 2018, the Spaniard has made 20 appearances this season for boyhood club Real Oviedo in the second division.

In the meantime, Arteta has spent three years with Manchester City as assistant manager before moving back to London to manage Arsenal. Having won the FA Cup twice together as players, Arteta has already lifted the trophy as a coach as well.

For Cazorla, it isn't surprising. "Injured, watching games together, he would get the remote and pause it," the veteran playmaker told the Guardian of his experience alongside Arteta in his days as a pro. " ‘What are you doing?’ He would say: ‘Go back, go back’, rewind 30 seconds, and ask: ‘What do you see?’ ‘I see a paused screen! What do you want me to see?!’

"He would say: ‘Look at this guy here, how badly he’s positioned. If he goes here, and he goes there, this space opens.' Every game, pausing every 20 seconds. The match has finished and we’re still in the 20th minute. I’m thinking: ‘What’s with this guy?’

He’s pausing. ‘Can’t you see we’re doing this badly? Don’t you think the left-back should be deeper? That he should draw out his marker? Don’t you think we can create a space there?’ I said yes to everything: ‘Yes, you’re completely right, Mikel. Now, press play.’

READ MORE: Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke lands huge £2.3bn boost that could change Mikel Arteta transfer plans

READ MORE: Bukayo Saka out, Emile Smith Rowe decision made - Arsenal line ups vs Wolves

"I’d say: ‘Mate, you’re a coach already.’ He said: ‘Yeah, I see things that make me think I should be.’ We talked a lot. He still loved playing, but working with Pep Guardiola at [Manchester] City was an opportunity, the best apprenticeship. I said: ‘Mikel, if that’s what moves you, go for it. It’s worked out well."

Cazorla himself cannot see himself following the footsteps despite heading to Saudi Arabia nearly four years ago to link up with now-Barcelona coach Xavi. He has been watching Arsenal from a distance though and ha been impressed with Arteta's job.

"Mikel has changed their [Arsenal’s] mentality. When I was there, something was missing. Mikel changed that and they have an incredible squad. I love [Martin] Odegaard and see myself in him: like him, I found a coach [Arsène Wenger] who gave me confidence.

"He made me captain before I could say 'hola’ in English. Declan Rice reminds me of Aaron Ramsey, appearing everywhere, a brutal player. Arsenal are clear candidates for the league."

This Arsenal side is now eclipsing anything that Cazorla's team managed. In terms of pushing for the league they have gone beyond the 2015/16 title challenge and are now back at Europe's top table too. Bringing more trophies to the club is the next step for Arteta, and Cazorla is keen on a return to the ground having not been back in six years.

"I really want to go back," he admitted. "I owe them a lot, they hold a special place. I also have a great friend there [in Arteta]." For now, he will continue to play for Real Oviedo, where he plays in front of much smaller crowds than he has been used to for most of his career, but it doesn't matter.

"I would play for free but you’re not allowed," Cazorla explained of his desire to return to the club. "They made a good offer. My wife said: ‘No, no, you’re not going to Oviedo to earn, you’re going home to enjoy it, to help, to give.’ I called my agent: ‘I don’t want any money.’

"I told the president: 'Minimum salary, 10% of shirt sales to the academy.' It was done that night." Santi Cazorla, class as always.