Santi Cazorla has revealed his big regret at not being able to say goodbye to Arsenal's supporters while also revealing Arsene Wenger's special contract gesture.
The 33-year-old joined Villarreal in the summer having finally been able to return to action following a distressing two-year period on the sidelines after various injury complications.
The Spaniard was forced to undergo numerous gruelling surgeries in an attempt to be able to return to the football pitch again - a scenario that he had been told was unlikely at times during his time on the sidelines.
He is, however, now back playing again, and has started all three of Villarreal's league games this season, but insists that he regrets the manner of his exit from the Gunners and how he couldn't say a proper goodbye to the fans.
When asked if remaining at Arsenal beyond the summer had been an option, he told The Guardian: "No, they didn't want to. They were very good, very honest. My idea was to do at Arsenal what I eventually did here [at Villarreal].
"I knew whoever was going to sign me would have to see me first: nobody just gives you a contract. Pre-season with Arsenal, let them see me, then we all decide. But they couldn’t wait to finalise the squad.
"They said they’d help any way they could otherwise. I understood it, respected it. I’m eternally grateful. The people love me there and I’ll always have a connection with Arsenal, so much affection.
"Not being able to say goodbye playing at the Emirates is like a thorn in my side. If I had to leave, I wanted it to be in front of the fans."
Cazorla also revealed that former Arsenal boss Wenger gave him the chance to renew his contract in the 2016-17 season, even though the club knew he was going to be out for a lengthy period of time.
He added: "Arsene always supported me. He renewed my contract before the first operation, which was an incredible gesture.
"He called me in: ‘Santi, I’m going to give you the optional year. It’s here, sign it, have your operation with peace of mind.’ That helped me focus on my rehabilitation without fear. I’m eternally grateful for that."
He revealed: "Half-times killed me, because it got cold, I’d be crippled at the start of the second half and the pain got worse and worse. That night, I cried; it had become too much. I had to stop. Then the problems started.
"I picked it up in the operating theatre and then there was the fact that the wound was open. I’d work on the bike and a couple of stitches would come out.
"Because it was an open wound, bacteria can enter, so another bug gets in. At night, a yellow liquid would come out. Every time they sewed me up, it split again; more liquid.
"They did a skin graft but they didn’t see what was inside – the bacteria eating away, eating away. They never found out which bacteria it was.
"They’d said to me: ‘Don’t worry about playing football, concentrate on regaining a normal life, being able to play with your son or go for a stroll.’ But I didn’t attach too much importance to that because by then I’d already decided to come to Spain, where they told me completely different things.
"I’d got tired – I’d gone through two or three months of operations. I went to Vitoria the next day and that’s when they found the bacteria – two in the tendon and another in the bone.
“They didn’t know how much of the tendon the infection had eaten. Mikel [surgeon Mikel Sanchez] said: ‘I’m going to have to open you up until I find the tendon.’ They told me they’d have to open, open, open, open and when they did, they saw I had lost 10cm.
"I’d been lucky, they said, it could have been more. When he had to rebuild the tendon, he realised how bad a condition the bone was in. He could put his finger in it. It was like Plasticine. That’s even more dangerous."