Santi Cazorla is back! Arsenal star on brink of return from 18-month injury hell

Arsenal’s Santi Cazorla made his return to the field at the Emirates Stadium for the first time in 18 months on Thursday, warming up before the club’s Europa League clash with Atletico Madrid.

The midfielder suffered a severe ankle injury in the Gunners’ Champions League match against Ludogorets on October 16, 2016 on the same pitch. He has not played for Arsenal since.

Cazorla, 33, has been forced to undergo multiple surgeries on his ankle, foot and Achilles tendon, at one point suffering gangrene and requiring a skin graft. Amputation of his foot was considered a possibility.

His latest surgery in the fall of 2017 was his 10th, but Cazorla said in January he still has not abandoned hope of returning to the Gunners at some point in 2018, despite having suffered what Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger described as the “worst injury I have ever known”.

And now, while it is unlikely he will make his appearance this season, he has managed to get onto his home field once more, doing some running, movement and passing training prior to the Arsenal’s Europa League semi-final first leg against Diego Simeone’s Atletico.

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Arsenal posted pictures of it on their official Twitter account.

“There have been moments when I’ve thought about throwing in the towel,” Cazorla told RTVE in January. “I’ve thought things like ‘maybe it is not worth continuing’.

“If things go well, maybe next year I can play at the top level again.”

Cazorla joined Arsenal from Malaga in 2012 and has made 180 appearances in all competitions, scoring 29 times and winning two FA Cups.

His contract with Arsenal expires in the summer and his fitness will go a long way toward determining whether he is offered a new deal.


LIVE: Marseille vs Salzburg

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The atmosphere at Stade Veledrome is such that the Europa League anthem has been drowned out by the supporters. Let’s hope the game matches up to the crowd!

Payet has had a hand in five of Marseille’s last nine goals in the Europa League, with three goals and two assists, and the former West Ham man could well be the key player for the hosts this evening from that position behind the striker. Only Sergio Canales, on the other hand, has provided more assists in this competition in 2017/18 than Salzburg full-back Lainer.

Salzburg substitues: Jerome Onguene, Xaver Schlager, Marin Pongracic, Fredrik Gulbrandsen, Reinhold Yabo, Takumi Minamino, Cican Stankovic.

Salzburg (4-4-2): Alexander Walke; Stefan Leiner, Duje Caleta-Car, Andre Ramalho, Andreas Ulmer; Amadou Haidara, Diadie Samassekou, Hannes Wolf, Valon Berisha; Hwang Hee-Chan, Munas Dabbur.

Marseille substitues: Henri Bedimo, Gregory Sertic, Valere Germain, Clinton N’Jie, Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, Florian Escales, Rolando.

Marseille (4-2-3-1): Yohann Pele; Bouna Sarr, Adil Rami, Luiz Gustavo, Jordan Amavi; Lucas Ocampos, Morgan Sanson; Florian Thauvin, Dimitri Payet, Maxime Lopez; Kostas Mitroglou.

Austrian Bundesliga champions Salzburg, meanwhile, are featuring in just their second European semi-final, having overcome Karlsruher SC back in 1993-94. They couldn’t match Inter in the final, however.

Marseille last reached the semi finals of a European competition in 2003-04, defeating Newcastle United before losing to Valencia in the final of the UEFA Cup, as it was then known.

Welcome to LIVE coverage of the first leg of the Europa League semi-final between Marseille and RB Salzburg!


LIVE: Arsenal vs Atletico Madrid

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Here we go! The teams are emerging from the tunnel…

The crowd at Emirates Stadium is a sea of red and white, with the home fans waving shimmering flags. The away supporters, adorned in the same colours, have scarves and banners of their own. The players will be with us shortly.

Diego Simeone added: “I hope we can play with a mental freedom in a stadium where Arsenal are very strong. You need courage to get into a final.”

Atletico Madrid have scored 15 goals in their six Europa League games this season, giving them the best goals-per-game average in the competition (2.5).

“[Arsenal’s] players deserve something special,” Wenger said ahead of this one. “I want to [win the competition] for them. My biggest satisfaction would be to achieve something with the group of players I have.”

Arsenal are appearing in their eighth European semi-final – they have progressed from six of the previous seven, only failing to reach the final in 2008-09 in the Champions League when they lost to Manchester United.

Positive news for Arsenal, as Wilshere and Ozil are both available from the start. Atletico’s Costa is only fit to make the bench.

Subs: Axel Werner, Fernando Torres, Gabi, Stefan Savic, Diego Costa, Vitolo, Roberto Olabe.

Atletico Madrid (4-4-2): Jan Oblak, Sime Vrsaljko, Jose Gimenez, Diego Godin, Lucas Hernandez, Angel Correa, Thomas Partey, Saul Niguez, Koke, Kevin Gameiro, Antoine Griezmann.

Subs: Petr Cech, Rob Holding, Alex Iwobi, Calum Chambers, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Sead Kolasinac, Eddie Nketiah.

Arsenal (4-3-2-1): David Ospina, Hector Bellerin, Shkodran Mustafi, Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal, Aaron Ramsey, Granit Xhaka, Jack Wilshere, Danny Welbeck, Mesut Ozil, Alexandre Lacazette.

Let’s get the team news ahead of this first leg…

The Spanish outfit have won only one of their last five matches in all competitions, though, with Arsenal dominant at home in recent weeks.

Will Arsene Wenger bow out with a European trophy? He must first overcome an Atleti side also chasing their only silverware of the season.

Hello and welcome to our live text commentary of the huge Europa League semi-final first leg between Arsenal and Atletico Madrid at Emirates Stadium!


Arsenal team news: Ozil and Wilshere return for Gunners for EL semi-final

Mesut Ozil and Jack Wilshere are back for Arsenal as the Gunners host the first leg of their Europa League semi-final against Atletico Madrid.

The pair had not featured for Arsenal since the Europa League quarter-final against CSKA Moscow but both will feature in Arsene Wenger’s XI for the clash against the La Liga giants. 

Mohamed Elneny suffered ankle ligament damage in the win over West Ham on Sunday and is out for two to three weeks which gives Wilshere the chance to play in midfield.

Arsenal’s substitutes bench includes Alex Iwobi and Sead Kolasinac while youngsters Eddie Nketiah and Ainsley-Maitland Niles are also among the options.

Atletico meanwhile include former Chelsea striker Diego Costa on the bench after he travelled despite being a doubt through injury.

Arsenal team: Ospina; Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Xhaka, Wilshere, Ramsey; Welbeck, Ozil, Lacazette

Atletico team: Oblak; Vrsaljko, Gimenez, Godin, Lucas; Thomas, Saul, Correa, Koke; Gameiro, Griezmann


‘Will Big Ben be next?!’ – Carvalhal blasts Wembley sale

Swansea City manager Carlos Carvalhal disagrees with the proposed sale of Wembley Stadium, likening it to other English landmarks Big Ben and Buckingham Palace.

The Football Association confirmed Thursday it had received a bid from Shahid Kahn, owner of Fulham and the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars to buy the home of the England national team.

While the proposed price has not been disclosed the total package is reported to be worth around £800 million.

However, the Swansea manager is not a fan of the deal, arguing Wembley is a monument and should not be put up for sale, wondering aloud if Big Ben and Buckingham Palace would follow.

“We can’t sell the monuments in my opinion,” said to reporters. “If you sell Wembley, do we say we’ll sell Big Ben after this? Buckingham Palace?

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“Wembley is a monument and we can’t sell the monuments. It’s culture. We can’t sell the culture.”

Wembley has been owned by the FA since it was constructed in 2007.

If the sale happens it may pave the way for Kahn’s Jaguars to move to London permanently, though his Fulham side is unlikely to join them.

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Meanwhile, Carvalhal and Swansea are battling to remain in the Premier League as they sit four points above the relegation zone with four games remaining.

Swansea face off against Chelsea at home Saturday in a matchup which could have top-four impact as the Blues chase Tottenham and Liverpool for a Champions League place.

Then after an away date against Bournemouth for the Welsh club, showdowns with 18th place Southampton and 19th place Stoke City, both four points behind the Swans, remain to close out the season and potentially decide those clubs Premier League fates for next season.