When Benik Afobe runs out at Carrow Road on Tuesday night, the significance of the venue will not be lost on him.
After all, it was at the home of Norwich City in February 2012 that the young striker made his comeback from the first serious injury of his career - a hip problem that kept him out for six months. It was a lively return for the forward too - he missed a penalty only to score later on - and Afobe will be hoping for even better in this latest encounter.
This time around, the 20-year-old is back from eight months out with an anterior cruciate knee ligament injury sustained while on loan at Millwall - but if his performance against Aston Villa last week is anything to go by, he could be sharper than ever. He twice went close to scoring against a side containing eight members of the squad that won last season’s NextGen Series, and is working tirelessly to make up for lost time.
And that continues in familiar surrounds at Norwich when the young Gunners look to progress in the Under-21 Premier League Cup.
People have been telling me that I played alright, so that is a bonus. I know I can do better, I have much more in my lockerBenik Afobe
“It was a bonus to play well against Villa,” Afobe told Arsenal.com. “Before the game and during it, I was just thinking about my fitness and my knee.
“People have been telling me that I played alright, so that is just a bonus. I know I can do better than that, I have much more in my locker. The fact my knee felt alright and I got through 90 minutes with no aches and pains is the main thing.
“The boss was there [at Meadow Park] but I know it was not just about me, he was there to watch the whole team. For the boss to see that I can play 90 minutes and do well is a good feeling.
“But to be honest, whether the boss was there or not, I would still want to give 100 per cent for the team. I could be playing with the under-16s today and I would still give my all. It was just for myself, to know that I can be as good if not better than I was before.”
It has undoubtedly been a tough few years for Afobe - enough to break the spirit of some - but the happy-go-lucky striker is unfailing positive and is looking to the future with renewed optimism. His first appearance of the campaign was actually a behind-closed doors friendly against a Nike XI last month, but it was only against Villa that he could feel he was getting back to his best.
“I felt massively sharper against Villa,” he said. “I played 25 minutes against the Nike team, and no disrespect to them but they are not Aston Villa reserves.
“I scored a goal but I felt I was moving a bit slowly and I was a bit stiff. I played 25 minutes and I was really tired [afterwards].
I’ve had positive people around me and it hasn’t been as hard as people would thinkBenik Afobe
“Against Villa I thought to myself that I should do the basics right and as the game goes on try to play a bit more. I burnt out in the last 15 minutes but that was always going to happen. But at least I can play 90 minutes and touch wood I can continue in the same vein.”
“When I first got the injury at Millwall, I was really devastated,” he adds. “But once the [doctors] told me, I thought to myself, ‘You know the news now, you won’t be back for six or seven months so you just need to crack on with your rehab’.
“I’ve had positive people around me and it hasn’t been as hard as people would think. I have tried to take it week by week and month by month and then before you know it, you’re doing different things.
“At first I was just in bed, icing my knee all the time, then I started walking, then had the stitches taken out, then the next stage was jogging on the treadmill, then outside. Before long there was some ballwork, twisting and turning, sprinting and now here I am playing games again.
“I’m just going to continue to work hard and try to push my way into the first team now.”
With an attitude like that, you would not bet against him. But first up it’s Norwich in the line of fire for Afobe.Copyright 2014 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 19 Nov 2013