I'm back - and I'm ready to give everything for this team.
This is obviously a very important season for me. After the loan spell at Fulham, I feel like I grew as a player and got a lot of experience. I want to come back into the side, help where I can, play as many games as I can. I'm ready to work hard and I'm looking forward to the season ahead.
I feel a lot different to the kid who walked in here back in 2014. I've grown up a lot. I came here at the age of 19 and I'm going to be 25 soon. I've had a lot of experiences over the years like going to Middlesbrough, Fulham and playing quite a few games here at Arsenal.
As a player and as a person, I've grown up quite a lot. I'm bringing the experience I've gained over the past few years into my game as well. I just want to keep developing, to keep working hard, keep improving every day. That's all I can do; focus on becoming the best player I can.
Having the experience of going up north to Middlesbrough was massive for me at such a young age. Then last season going to Fulham... it's just having those different team-mates, different managers and different people around you. I think those are times I'll never forget. As a player, I've been learning from each game I've played and I think it's important to be exposed to as much football as possible. You get different pictures in your head from those experiences, so I've definitely matured a lot.
I've seen a lot during my time here, too. I played in Arsène's final season and that was different for me. At the start of the year we didn't know. It was normal, everyone was playing and training as we'd always done but then when we had the news it was his last season... it's still the same because we're all professionals and gave the same effort, training as hard as we could every day and giving our all in every game, but there is that emotional factor.
At the end, you say your goodbyes and thank him for bringing you to the club and believing in you. When a new manager comes in, there's a sense of excitement around the place and you feel that you've got to prove yourself to him. Everyone steps up their game a little bit more, putting in tackles, running that little bit more and exerting that little bit more energy. You just want to show him how good you are.
Unai obviously came in at the start of last season and that's when we spoke, which eventually led to me going on loan to Fulham. The long-term plan was always to go away, get game time and then come back so that I could play games here. It's about going away and getting those experiences to add things to my game so I could come back with more experience as a more well-rounded player.
Playing every week for Fulham was amazing. It's a great club with great fans and playing week in, week out was brilliant. I learnt so much and it was a good experience for me to play in a different position too. As a centre back, I learned what a midfielder would want from me because I was playing defensive mid. I had that appreciation of just how tough it is to play there. It was so good to be surrounded by different players, different managers, just for the experience of it all. I actually went through three different managers that season, all with different playing styles.
I learned a lot and wanted to bring that back with me here, so that I could improve in training and as a person too. It also gave me a lot more confidence, which is massive in football. It's so much easier to maintain it when you're playing week in, week out. As part of the job, you have to believe in yourself and your ability - and when you're not playing, you always need to have that belief so that you remember why you're here and what you can bring to the team.
So confidence is massive and you've got to keep that going, to continue to believe in yourself. The goal I set when I went to Fulham was to play as many games as I could. I went there wanting to play centre half, but that didn't happen. I played the first couple of games there but then I was out of the team.
It was quite a hard time then. I had to get my head around it and I worked hard on other things in the gym to try to get myself back into the team. I think it was in November when I played away against Liverpool, and then I really knew that I had to take my opportunity there. It was a real turning point, and I ended up playing almost every game for the rest of the season.
In football, things can change so quickly and I would always tell young players to keep their heads up because they never know what's around the corner. The other piece of advice I'd give is to fully commit to the club you're going on loan to. That was one thing I did when I went on loan to Middlesbrough and Fulham. I gave everything in every game and every training session to that club.
My heart was fully in each of those clubs for the whole season I was there. Then you really feel the emotion everyone goes through. You're not just there as a player from another club who's not going to be there the following season, you're actually involved with the players and the fans. That's how you get the best out of your loan spells.
People asked me how it felt to be on loan and watching Arsenal from a distance. I think they thought I'd be jealous of Rob starting every week for Arsenal before his injury - but that's absolutely not the case. I was so happy for Rob and I loved watching him play. He was doing so well and he's a good friend of mine, so I was just really happy for him.
I was at Fulham and playing games, so I was happy as well. To see us both playing was great. Unfortunately he got a serious injury but he’s done so well to get back from it. He's worked so hard to come back stronger, so I can't wait to see him kick on.
I'm back now too and I feel good. We had a good summer, pre-season's gone well and I've settled back in nicely with the lads, the new manager and coaches. I'm ready for the season ahead, I'm ready to fight and I'm ready to give everything to this team.
To establish myself here, I need to play week in, week out and that's been the same at every club I've been to. When you're playing every week, that's when you've got that confidence and you can prove yourself to the fans. That's a goal I want to push for, it's one of my aims.
I've got to figure out how to do that by working on things off the pitch to help me achieve that. I want to be starting at Arsenal. That's the aim for this season.
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