Ex-Arsenal midfielder Santi Cazorla returns from injury with Villarreal

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Santi Cazorla played his first game in 636 days since suffering an Achilles' tendon injury for Villarreal in a preseason friendly.

The former Arsenal midfielder came on as a second-half substitute during a 1-1 home draw with Hercules and received a warm reception from the crowd.

The 33-year-old was all smiles as he stepped onto the Mini Estadi pitch in the 67th minute in what was his first game since October 2016.

"I'm very happy and delighted to return to do what I like, there is still a lot of work left to do but this is the first step," Cazorla said on his Instagram page. "Eternally grateful to the people for the affection, it's been worth it to arrive to this point just for that. THANK YOU."

Cazorla, who scored 29 goals and made 180 appearances in his six seasons at Arsenal, left the club in May after his contract expired and joined Villarreal, where he had two previous spells.

Arsene Wenger described Cazorla's injury as "the worst I have known," and the ex-Spain international needed a skin graft and 10 operations.

Villarreal goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo said to Cadena Ser radio: "Cazorla is a top player just as he was a few years back. He has tremendous enthusiasm and I'm very happy to see him experience this after so much hard work. He has arrived to give a lot of joy to Villarreal and it seems like he is 20 years old in terms of enthusiasm and work."

Villarreal coach Javi Calleja has not ruled out including Cazorla in his team for the 2018-19 campaign.

"If everything goes according to plan and there are good vibes, Santi will be a luxury reinforcement for us," Calleja said in a news conference this month.