That’s how long Santiago Cazorla, the Arsenal playmaker, was initially thought to be out. It was during a Champions League match in October of 2016 where he first picked up a knock. So how on earth is it August of 2018 and he’s still not 100% fit yet? Let’s break it down:
Note: this piece is a combination of on what is 100% factual, as well as what I think happened.
Santi was subbed off vs. Ludogorets in October 2016 with a very minor Achilles injury. This likely caused the Achilles to become inflamed and irritated. Normally, this injury is easily rehabbed with a few weeks off, but this was not the case. It is likely that Santi also had some sort of bony growth (such as a bone spur) near his heel that caused further irritation to the already inflamed tendon. This is likely what caused the injury to become worse in the weeks to follow.
Santi had an operation in December (fact) which was likely to clean up the injured tendon, and possibly to remove any bony growths. However, the initial incision that the surgeon made never completely healed. This caused the skin AROUND the Achilles (not the Achilles itself) to become infected.
In order to close the wound, Santi had a skin graft procedure and started training again in February. At the start of training, Santi was initially doing quite well. However, one day while on the bike the skin around his ankle stretched too much, causing it to re-open the skin graft (fact). Santi had another surgery done to fix this issue towards the end of February, but the infection continued.
With English doctors unable to find the cause of the persistent infection, Santi flew to see Dr. Mikel Sanchez in Spain. By now, the infection was so rampant that eight centimeters of his Achilles were completely eaten away (fact), along with a portion of his heel bone. In late May, he underwent surgery to completely reconstruct the tendon. A second skin graft was performed.
During the surgery, physicians learned more about his infection, which involved more than three types of abnormally aggressive bacteria. Medical staff told Santi that he would likely not play football again, and that if the infection spread to his blood, they may have to consider foot amputation (fact).
Santi decides to stay in Spain to continue his rehabilitation under Juan Carlos Herraez, who was also the physio of the Spanish national team (fact). His program started with aquatic therapy, pilates, and cardio (fact). At this point, Santi was looking at a January 2018 return (fact).
It was reported that Santi was suffering from bone edema, which would slow his recovery (fact). He also had yet another surgery (fact). It is unknown if the surgery was to address the bone edema, or for the Achilles tendon. Arsene Wenger was quoted saying that Santi had to “start again from zero”. At this point, his medical staff likely ruled out a return to play during the 2017-18 season, and focused his rehab on a successful return for 2018-19.
Santi was seen for the first time doing ball drills (fact). He warmed up on the Emirates pitch prior to a Europa League match, doing light speed and agility work. This would be the last time he would step foot on the Emirates as an Arsenal player.
Santi Cazorla’s contract expires as an Arsenal player. The combination of Wenger leaving, Santi’s age, as well as his injury history were the driving factors in this decision. He decides to spend his summer continuing training at Villareal as a trialist, a club he previously played for. He made his first competitive return to play in July, appearing as a substitute in a preseason friendly (fact).
After a successful trial, Santi signs a 12 month contract with Villarreal. Villarreal coach Javi Calleja is excited to have him on the team. Welcome back to football, Santi!