My first memory of Arsenal? Easy, Titi Henry.
When I first thought about Arsenal it was when Titi was playing and scoring goals. Of course, when you’re a kid you think, ‘Me as well, I would like to do that’.
I was always a fan of his so, of course, I followed his career closely. He was a huge role model for me. To achieve what he did at this club was exceptional. I would like to write my own chapter here. I would love to make the fans as happy as Titi did.
I have three brothers and my parents have been with me since I started football as well. They have helped me every day up until now. Everyone’s got a role in my life. One will care about my football, another my money, another my private life… it’s a bit like that. I have friends, not too many, but they are there for me and have been since I was very young. I also have friends in football from Lyon.
I always think about football and recently when I saw some pictures of when I was a kid, I would always have a ball with me. My favourite position was always as a centre forward or striker. I also liked playing in goal but my mum wasn’t very keen as she thought being a keeper was too dangerous, so I would play at centre forward again and score lots of goals.
Sometimes I would be embarrassed for the opposition if there was a huge goal difference and would try to goal in goal again, but my mum wouldn’t let me. She said that I either played as a forward or not at all, so decided it: I was going to be a striker.
I signed for Lyon at the age of 10. They wanted me to sign when I was seven but my dad said it was too early.
“You need to learn with your friends and just have fun,” he said. “When you go into Lyon’s academy it’s more serious.” So for three years I played in my neighbourhood, where I went to school as well, and then I went to Lyon’s academy. They came to watch me play a lot of times, to tell me to do some trials and train with the team.
At the start, I had to work a lot harder than other players but maybe when I was playing for u-16 it was better. When I was playing for u-16 it was a winning mentality. Because the first team had won everything in France for seven years, the academy needed the same winning mentality and we had to win every game, every week. When we lost, it was a big week of work because we couldn’t lose many times in a season, but that helped me get to the level I needed to be.
When I made my first-team debut, I remember being surprised because I played like 40 minutes, but I was proud because all my family and my friends were in the crowd in the stadium. I was just happy and proud to play in the stadium. I did my warm-up like all the games before and then once he said, ‘Come on Laca, you’re gonna play’, I was like, ‘OK, I’ve got to play, I want to play’.
In my second year I didn’t score a lot, we didn’t get into the Champions League. For me it was hard but I kept working and I had the confidence from my coach and from my club.
We spent the next pre-season in New York and that’s when Titi shook me up. He told me I always have to keep working on myself, which we can sometimes forget when we are young. When a player like Titi speaks, you can’t ignore what he’s telling you. I realised that to be a great player meant permanent hard work. Someone like him always wanted to improve, even with the career he had, and I took a lot from that.
After that, it was much better. I scored goals and we qualified for the Champions League as well. For me, it meant everything because it was hard to achieve but I worked hard to get where I wanted. For me, it was a dream to play for the first team and score many goals for the club. To see how fans loved me there was crazy and it’s something I will always be grateful for.
But then I had a tough decision to make because, for me, I needed the next step. A few years before, I had talked with Arsenal but it was not at a good time. When they came in again, I was so happy. I think the discussion with Arsenal and the club was so quick because for me it was obvious that I had to sign here.
I’d actually visited Emirates Stadium before with Lyon. It was in 2009, the day after I had scored the winning goal in the European U-19 Championship final in France. I spent the whole night celebrating with Antoine Griezmann and Francis Coquelin and didn’t go to bed. Then at 6am, me, Yannis Tafer, Timothee Kolodziejczak, Clement Grenier and Enzo Reale got the train to London to join up with Lyon. We only arrived at the hotel an hour before we had to set off for the Emirates!
Francis and I kept in touch after that. We had a lot of contact over the next few years and even more in the weeks before I joined the club, especially when it became increasingly likely that I would come to Arsenal.
He only said good things about Arsenal, which is not surprising because he wanted me to join the club. Even without that I still really wanted to come here. He stressed that it was a great club located in a fantastic city. He said I would not regret my decision to move here because of the people I’d be working with and, of course, the fans. He was right!
Scoring on my debut was a good start but I knew I wanted to be better. But overall I’m happy because I now know the league, I know my team-mates at the club, and the club is happy with me because they didn’t want to sell me over the summer. They said, ‘We are happy to have you in the team’ and I just want to improve and be better and better every day.
I also love working with my team-mates here. I’m always asked about my ‘rivalry’ with Auba, but it’s not like that at all. We know that if we are together, we can stronger and we just have the same target together, which is to win something for the club.
Before he signed, I didn’t know him but I had heard that he was a good guy. Then we talked and realised we liked each other, so it's been a good relationship since the beginning. I’m happy he’s here because he’s a good player and a good person as well. We just talk and laugh together as well.
I don’t see him as a rival. I know he came into the team so sometimes I’ll be on the bench while he’s playing, but he’s my team-mate. Of course I want to play, but we can play together as well like we did last season. We just want to win titles, so that’s a big thing for the club.
Unai Emery has had a big impact as well. He did a good job even if we lost the first two games, because after we won so many games in a row and you can see what he wants us to do, how he wants us to play tactically, defensively.
He wants 100 per cent every day. He wants us to win, even in training. He wants quality as well, we know we have to play well to win. Sometimes not, but most of the time if we play well, we can win.
The approach is working for the team and it’s working for me too. I think this season will be better because now I know the Premier League, I know my team-mates more, they know me more. With all the hard work we’re putting in together, it will be better.
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