An open letter from Danielle van de Donk

Van de Donk

Honestly, I never thought I would stay at Arsenal for six years.

It's so rare that footballers stay in one place for so long - and I know that all too well. When I arrived at Arsenal in 2015, I'd just come from Sweden and I'd only actually played there for four or five months.

Gothenburg was a great city but it was my first adventure abroad, outside of the Netherlands, and I found it a lot harder than I expected it to be, being away from home. But then Arsenal came in and I knew I wasn't ready to go back to the Netherlands just yet.

Pedro brought me over here and wanted to ease me in to a new style of football. I remember being quite annoyed that he put me on the bench at the beginning but then one game I looked to my left and saw Casey Stoney, Kelly Smith and Fara Williams. 

"Oh my God, is this the bench?" I thought to myself. "The standards are ridiculous here!"

And. let me tell you, they are! I was known as a bit of a rebel when I first arrived here but everyone at the club helped me to grow up, to be more professional and become more of an all-round player. 

I was challenged on a daily basis by the great team-mates I had around me. The level was high, the standards were high and I think all of those factors helped me to develop my football intelligence. I had to learn to be clever, I had to learn to be more physical, I had to make loads of steps to become the player I am today. And without those steps that Arsenal gave me, there's no way I would have been able to achieve everything I've done since I arrived here. Winning the Euros with the Netherlands, the Women's Super League title, the FA Cup... I've done a lot. 

Van de Donk

I've had such a great time with everyone, too, and that's the big thing I'll remember from my time at Arsenal. I spent my first year with the oldies, the legends of the game, and had so much fun. They made me feel so welcome and at home here in north London. Arsenal is a special place and I'm so happy to have stayed here for so long. 

That's why this whole process has been quite hard for me. Of course, I'm so proud to be moving to Lyon and it's an amazing step for me too, but all the messages I've had in the past 24 hours have made the reality sink in. 

I'm going to leave Arsenal, London, Borehamwood, everything. It's made me emotional. I'm going to miss everyone and everything. Of course I am. Arsenal is my family, it's my home now and it's hard to leave that behind. 

I feel so appreciated by my team-mates but especially by you, the fans. Reading through all of their replies to yesterday's announcement, it kind of feels like I've retired from playing football because it feels like a proper goodbye from them. It's just so nice that people think of me in that way and although I've never been one to read everything on social media, I wanted to read every single message because all the fans have been so nice.

That's why this letter is so important to me. It's a chance for me to say thank you. Thank you for your support, thank you for your messages, thank you for being there for the last six years. I've put my heart into everything I've done here and I hope you've seen that.

I also hope I'm leaving something behind, too. I saw that I was the first overseas player to reach 100 appearances for Arsenal Women, and that I've made more appearances than any other foreign player in the club's history. That is so sick!

You know when you're younger and you're made to stand in front of the class and have to say what you want to be when you're older? Well I said that I wanted to be a professional footballer.

My mum took me to Barcelona on a stadium tour, where we looked at all the things on the walls, all the achievements, the trophies and things like that. I'm kind of realising that it's going to be me. I know I'm not going to have as many as a Barcelona but I have left something behind at Arsenal with my name on it - literally, because it's been engraved at the 100 Club wall at the training ground!

That's all I wanted to do when I was younger, and I'm so proud of it. I'm so happy to know that I'm leaving Arsenal in a better place than when I arrived.

Miedema and Van de Donk

I'm leaving with memories to last a lifetime, too. The one that will always bring a smile to my face, though, is that double nutmeg! I keep seeing Natasha Harding and Remi Allen replying to tweets about it saying, 'Not again, not again' every time it's posted, which makes me laugh. It's so good, though, the best skill I've ever done on the pitch.

In terms of regrets, I'd say the biggest is that we weren't able to finish the 2019/20 season due to the pandemic. I was 28 and it like a year of my career had gone because the season stopped. We were playing well, too, so I think we could have created even more history. 

The other one is that I haven't been able to say goodbye to you all in person. It would have been great to have had you back at our games last season. I've missed you all so much. 

I played with the national team in front of fans again recently and even though it wasn't anywhere near full capacity, it put such a big smile on my face to see them there. It gave me such a big boost of energy. 

That was always the case whenever I would walk out at Meadow Park in front of you all. The Arsenal fans have been so amazing with me and I think they've created such a good atmosphere at games, too. 

There's no booing, there's no racism or any negative things like that. They're just lovely, they're there for the football, to enjoy it, to have a good time and sing through the game. They cheer everyone on and it's just the best. I'm going to miss them so much. 

So I just want to tell you all that you made my experience, all six years, so much better. I've seen the club grow, I've seen our fanbase grow and I hope it's just going to continue.

And although I'm saying goodbye to you as an Arsenal player, I'll always be one of you: an Arsenal fan.


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