Francis Coquelin says his first-ever training session at the club was “war” and left him wondering whether he would come back.
The French midfielder was 16 when he travelled over to London Colney for a week-long trial and, despite a thigh injury, he impressed enough to earn a move.
But Coquelin - who has gone on to establish himself as a key member of the first team - admits he had reservations about accepting the offer when it came through.
I remember seeing two players fighting in training, and I had an argument with Jens Lehmann as well and I was thinking, ‘Wow, where am I?’Francis Coquelin
“When I left Arsenal I wasn’t sure whether I would come back,” he told the Arsenal Magazine. “I remember my first training session with the first team and it was war. I said to the boss at the door when I left, ‘This is different!’
“I remember seeing two players fighting in training, and I had an argument with Jens Lehmann as well and I was thinking, ‘Wow, where am I?’
“Two weeks later we had the European Under-17 Championship and I was more worried about whether I would be alright to play in that [than whether I would get a deal].”
Coquelin realised the opportunity was too big to turn down, but says his early months at the club were a steep learning curve.
“It was a difficult decision because I had to leave my family in France,” he said. “But I thought it was time for me to go, so I went.
“It was tough at first. When you’re young, staying in a hotel room and not doing anything, not seeing your friends, not speaking the language, eating different food… it’s hard.
“Then I was straight in training with the first team, so I wasn’t really in with the reserves who were my age, and the only guy I could talk to was Gilles Sunu. He was injured at the time so the first month was difficult for me.
“But what helped me a lot was when I moved in with my first lodging family in Enfield. I’m still really close to them now and actually feel like part of the family.
“It really helped because I was talking to them every day so it felt a bit like home. On the pitch I felt much better too, and then I got to speak the language. My first year was unbelievable to be honest.”Copyright 2016 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