When I first arrived here at Arsenal, I couldn’t believe how everyone welcomed me in.
I received so much love from all of our supporters, my teammates and the staff, and I was instantly made to feel like I was part of the Arsenal family. That’s something that has only grown since then and leaving today, my lasting impression is that Arsenal is a club to love.
I’ve felt nothing but love from every single person across this club and I can’t tell you how much it means as a player to be part of an environment like this. This place is something special and any player who was the honour of wearing the Arsenal badge is very, very lucky to do so.
It’s been a lovely 18 months here with Arsenal, but I feel like I’m at that point in my career where I’m 31 years old and I need to start thinking about my next career. I need to think about my future. Arsenal have given me everything, but for personal reasons I need something different in my life now.
I’m so incredibly proud to say that I’ve been able to represent this historic club. I’m sad that my journey with Arsenal ends here, but I’m leaving with nothing but special memories and pride over what we’ve been able to achieve together. I got a feeling of a truly professional and classy club and at this point I couldn’t have asked for anything more.
I already think about it now, but I know that one day when I retire I will look back on my time at Arsenal and think wow, I played for one of the greatest clubs in the world. I know that I’ll be old one day and tell all of my children that I played for Arsenal in the Champions League. I feel very proud to say that.
I’ve got some incredible memories on the pitch during my time at Arsenal and winning the Conti Cup against Chelsea is one of the best, but for me, the one moment that really stands out is something that took place off the pitch. Arriving back from our Copa America win with the Lionesses, we walked into the training ground and everyone from the club was there to support us and say congratulations. That was a moment that will stay with me forever because it’s something that represents what this club is all about - class.
I would also like to take a moment to talk about my teammates. I love every single one of them. I came from China where I couldn’t talk to anyone, then I arrived here and suddenly I was surrounded by some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met with incredible talent and the biggest hearts. I’ve genuinely made friends for life and that’s one of the most important things for me to take away from my time here because in life it’s the people that you spend your time with that make it so special. I’m already looking forward to seeing them on international duty again, we’ll definitely be swapping shirts!
It’s really hard for me to leave this club because I know that this team is working towards something really special and I know they’re going to achieve so much next season, but this is something I have to do for myself. We’ve overcome so much as a group this season, always sticking together and always believing, so I know that anything is possible next season with that same mentality. I know they’re going to go even further and I can promise you that I’ll be watching every game next season on my TV and for years to come. Arsenal is part of my heart now and I’ll be back at Emirates Stadium soon.
Once a Gooner, always a Gooner. Rafa.
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