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Santi Cazorla on Villarreal vs Arsenal

"The only thing I ask is that the team that reaches the final wins it," the midfielder told UEFA.com.

 Santi Cazorla is given a hero's send-off after his final game for Villarreal last season
Santi Cazorla is given a hero's send-off after his final game for Villarreal last season Getty Images

Revered by Villarreal and Arsenal fans alike, former Spain midfielder Santi Cazorla spoke to UEFA.com about his split loyalties ahead of their UEFA Europa League semi-final return, his hopes for both of his former clubs and his memories of European competition.

On divided loyalties

My feelings for both clubs are so huge that it's difficult for me to choose one or the other. 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.

On joining Villarreal and president Fernando Roig

Great Villarreal Europa League goals
Great Villarreal Europa League goals

I'm a footballer thanks to them – they believed in an 18-year-old Asturian boy. Villarreal gave me the opportunity to play in the first division and realise my dream, and I'll always be thankful to the president and club. The president is, sincerely, the best person I have ever met in the world of football.

Villarreal are different – it's special, it's a small family. And the president is a warm and affectionate person, which is the most important thing in this world. His ambition and how he's done things are very special. With [the city having] a population of 50,000, the fact that the club is rubbing shoulders with world-class clubs is very special.

On Villarreal's run to the 2006 UEFA Champions League semi-finals against Arsenal

It was incredible. I was very young and to face an Inter side [in the last eight] with players such as [Luis] Figo, Adriano and [Zlatan] Ibrahimović was incredible. Then in the semi-final, I was on the bench for both games. The most difficult moment, second only to Villarreal's relegation, was [Juan Román] Riquelme's missed penalty because we almost saw ourselves in the Champions League final, and it is so difficult to get there.

At the same time, it was something beautiful. I've never seen that type of atmosphere. The people and the team were so excited. Arsenal were role models for me. I would watch many matches with [Thierry] Henry, [Robert] Pirés, [Dennis] Bergkamp, [Fredrik] Ljungberg and [Patrick] Vieira. It was a top squad with a beautiful style of play. To play them was something I had dreamed of and that seemed impossible one year earlier.

Jens Lehmann saves Juan Román Riquelme's penalty in the 2006 UEFA Champions League semi-finals
Jens Lehmann saves Juan Román Riquelme's penalty in the 2006 UEFA Champions League semi-finalsAFP via Getty Images

On Villarreal's semi-final history and what would it mean for them to reach the final?

We've been on the threshold several times. The one against Porto [in 2011] was very hard. We put in a great first-half performance in [the first leg] in Portugal, we even got ourselves in front, but in the end we lost [5-1]. Then against Liverpool [in 2016], you win 1-0 at home but then, at Anfield, Liverpool were the superior side.

Villarreal are more experienced now in these competitions, and in knockout matches, and making it to a final is something they truly deserve. I had the chance to play some finals with the Spanish national team and Arsenal and it's something beautiful to experience; the adrenaline before the match, the excitement of the fans, the fact of seeing yourself so close to the trophy. It's time for Villarreal to experience it.

On Villarreal striker Gerard Moreno

He is the best forward in Spain right now. 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.

On Arsenal

2019 final highlights: Chelsea 4-1 Arsenal
2019 final highlights: Chelsea 4-1 Arsenal

I'm not sure how long it's been since they won a European competition but they had the chance against Barcelona in the [2006] Champions League final and the Europa League final against Chelsea [in 2019]. So it's necessary for the club to achieve something big in Europe, isn't it? They were close to achieving it on several occasions and they have to keep showing that Arsenal are a big team in Europe. They want to show that they're at the same level as many other big clubs in the world and in order to do this they've got to win European trophies.

On Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta

I think he's the right man to take the club forward. 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'.

On why he loves Arsenal

Highlights: Villarreal 2-1 Arsenal (2 mins)
Highlights: Villarreal 2-1 Arsenal (2 mins)

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.