This story first appeared in the August 2016 edition of the Arsenal Magazine.
While others were sunning themselves in exotic destinations after a summer of international tournaments, Francis Coquelin was already making his way back onto the training pitches of London Colney.
Rewind two years to November 2014 and Coquelin was moving across London for a loan spell with Championship club Charlton Athletic, with consistent first-team opportunities out of reach for the tenacious midfielder.
Previous loan spells with Ligue 1 outfit Lorient and Freiburg of the Bundesliga had given the boy from Laval an opportunity to gain competitive experience as he looked to hone his trade. Coquelin would play just give times for the Addicks before returning to the Emirates after being recalled from his loan with Arsene Wenger’s side suffering something of an injury crisis.
A breakthrough season followed, with Coquelin cementing his status as a first-team player by making 30 appearances and helping the team retain the FA Cup. He was a regular at the start of last season too, before a knee ligament injury against West Brom ruled him out for three months. But he was back in late January, and straight back on form.
Having returned to pre-season in early July with the first wave of first-team stars, Coquelin has been looking to knuckle down and put in the hard yards as he once again bids to stake his claim for a midfield berth this season.
Francis, it's the start of a new season, so how are you feeling about what lies ahead?
I'm feeling good. We had six weeks off which was an enjoyable break and I've had some good relaxation, though I've been preparing for the new season by trying to keep fit and be as ready as possible to start the new campaign.
What do you think Arsenal need to do this season as we attempt to go one step further and turn second place into first?
Well, it's about small details. It was a really tight season last season and it was a strange one. I think it was unexpected that Leicester would win it but they've done terrific and I think this season, we've gone through everything we've done last season, and we had a strong season, but it's going to be about details. We will have to win the games people expect us to win and respond as well in the big games. I think that's what we've done in the last couple of years so we have to carry on doing this.
On a personal basis, what can we expect of you this season?
Always expect more. Every training session should be better than the previous one so I'll try to stay fit as much as possible and not get injured - I think that's the first point. Apart from that, I've been working hard in the close season and I'm ready for the campaign. We don't have all the players back yet but I think everyone knows this season is going to be a different one with all the players coming in, at every club, and all the new managers coming. So, to win the league this year would be a massive achievement for everyone. I think everyone is ready for it and I know I am.
Granit Xhaka has signed from Borussia Monchengladbach. What have you seen of him in the past?
I played against him once when I was in Freiburg and obviously he was in the same group as France in the Euros so I watched a bit of him. It's Arsenal Football Club - we know we're going to sign quality players, and I think he is one. He's going to add quality to the team and that's a good thing.
What was he like to play against?
I remember when we played against them it was a tough week because we played in the Europa League two days before. I don't remember too much of him but I've seen him in the Euros and I think he's a good passer of the ball, he's strong and good in the air so I think he's going to add quality and strength to the squad, and that's a good thing.
Xhaka, Coquelin, Elneny, Ramsey, Wilshere, Cazorla - that's some midfield...
As I said, we're playing for Arsenal Football Club so there's always going to be great players around the club. Everyone needs to be ready for it and we're going to have a good fight and a positive fight that is going to take the best of every one of us.
We visited the USA in pre-season, but what did you make of the NBA this year?
It was incredible. Obviously I expected Golden State to win it but what the Cavaliers have done is unbelievable. I'm happy for LeBron James to go back to his home town and win the league.
If you had to pick to pick between Steph Curry and LeBron James, who would you go for and why?
I don't know, I'd say it's a little bit like in our sport when people ask, "Ronaldo or Messi?" There is someone who is naturally gifted and a special talent and the other one's got talent as well but works really hard. I really like Steph Curry but it's two different types of player and I like both of them.
Visiting the USA gave us the chance to play in front of some of our most fanatical fans. Some have to get up at 4am to watch you and your team-mates play!
That's great dedication. I understand that we've got fans all over the world, and sometimes it makes people wake up really early or others go to bed really late. It's the magic of the support of all the fans we've got.
Finally, what would it take to get you up at 4am like our American fans?
As a fan, probably the likes of Mesut Ozil or Alexis Sanchez scoring a terfific goal into the top corner. I reckon that's why they're all waking up so early in the morning!
More quizzes coming soon!
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