Lemme tell you a little story about why I became a footballer: my father.
He was my first favourite player. The first time I watched him at a stadium, he was playing for Le Havre and I think I was only three years old. Straight away I knew I wanted to be like him. It’s as simple as that.
From then on, I was always kicking a ball. At half-time I would play with my friends, kicking a plastic ball or something like that. There was basketball as well, but I didn’t enjoy anything as much as I enjoyed football.
My father captained Gabon and although I spent my childhood in France, it’s like I was born in Gabon. He taught me so many things about this country that it became my culture. I could well have chosen to play for Spain or France - I even played in the France Under-21 team - but I knew in my heart that I wanted to emulate my father.
He would always come to every match I played, all the way back to when I was playing for my first club near to Laval in France. I had actually wanted to start when I was four, but at that age in France, you play a different version, so I had to wait until I was five.
The first club I joined was called L'Huisserie. I played my first game for them - as a striker, of course - and from that moment, I knew football had to be a part of my life. From then on, it was about scoring as many goals as I could.
I remember one in particular, I think I was nine at the time. We were winning 1-0 but I hadn’t scored yet. I looked for my father in the crowd and I saw my grandpa was watching the game too, so I thought to myself, ’Now I have to score’. The next time the ball came into the box, I jumped as high as I could and scored a bicycle kick! I’ll never forget that goal, or the smile on my grandpa’s face.
Back then, we were moving around quite a lot, and I played youth football for Nice, Laval, and Rouen. Sure, it was difficult to move around a lot, but now I can see that it’s been a massive benefit as it’s helped me settle into new environments very quickly.
I was playing on the wing rather than up top because of my pace. I’d always been quick and everybody told me I was fast, but when I was a bit older, like 15 or 16, I lost a little bit of pace.
I’d had some problems with my knees and I couldn’t run as fast as I had been able to, so I fell out of love with football for a bit. I didn’t have a club, I wasn’t at school, I was just at home trying to think positively.
It was hard at the time and I did think about quitting, but every day I kept training hard. I don’t know why, but I thought that I had to train hard because you never know in life, something can happen.
Then after six months of hard work, my father called me and said, ‘Are you ready to go training with a team?’ and I said, ‘Yes of course!’ because I had worked for six months for that opportunity. That was when I started to train with Bastia and from there, that was the start of my professional career.
After two years with Bastia, I joined AC Milan in 2007 and it’s where I worked on my speed a lot to become quick again. I was very young with very little experience, but it was in Milan that I learned how to become a professional footballer.
I was lucky because there were lots of top players there at the time like Maldini, Nesta, Kaka, Seedorf and Ronaldo. I was quite shy, but I was keen to watch what these top players did and I learnt a lot that way.
I never played a senior game for Milan and that’s when the next tough spell of my career began. I did OK at Dijon but then I had some really difficult times on loan at Lille and Monaco, because I wasn’t playing, so that was really hard for me.
But then I joined Saint-Etienne and everything changed. When I was there, Christophe Galtier gave me a lot of confidence. I had always been on loan, but after those first six months, the club bought me and I was really happy. This was one of those moments where I said, ‘OK, now I have to improve myself, to work even harder than I was working before’ - and I did it.
Things were changing off the pitch, too. I had my first son, Curtys, and I knew I had to do everything I could to be the best player I could be. I think from then on, things really started to go well for me.
I won the Coupe de la Ligue with St Etienne, scored my country’s first-ever Olympic goal and finished top goalscorer at the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon. I missed a penalty against Mali in the quarter-final shootout and that’s probably my worst moment in football, but I live with it and since then I’ve scored more penalties. It’s a bad moment but it’s allowed me to create many good moments since.
I won two Supercups and the German Cup with Borussia Dortmund soon after, and became the club’s sixth all-time leading scorer too. I loved my time at Dortmund but when Arsenal called, I was really excited for the challenge.
I’d always admired Arsenal because of the big history and players like Thierry Henry. He was always an example for strikers and because I am also fast and score goals, I always looked up to him.
He’s the reason why I took the No 14 shirt. To be honest, when I arrived I actually wanted No 7, but Micki had already taken it. So I thought, ‘Why not follow in the footsteps of a legend?’ I’m just really proud to wear the 14 shirt and I hope to honour it.
It’s been very easy to settle here. The fans have been welcoming and of course the team have been really good to me.
I’ve been lucky enough to play alongside some really good players throughout my career and Laca is definitely one of them. Last season was the first full season that I’d played with another striker like him, and I’m really happy with how well we worked together.
We have the same vision about football when we talk in the dressing room, the same ideas and the same feelings. The fact that we understand each other is the thing that makes the difference in the games.
That relationship definitely helped me to win the Golden Boot last season. It was a tough year, but I had the chance to score goals, because the team played a great season. Of course the last months were not the best in the Premier League, but the whole season, we put in a great effort.
It meant a lot to win the Golden Boot. I am really happy and proud of it, especially to share the trophy with Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah. I really like these two guys. We are representing Africa so it is a good sign for the continent.
Africa is in my heart and in my mind, so I’m extremely proud to represent it in the Premier League. The African people really love football, like everyone across the world, it makes me very proud to represent Africa in such an amazing way because not everyone gets the chance to play in the Arsenal colours.
Of course the season didn’t end the way we wanted it to. Losing a final like that is tough for everyone, the players, our families and the fans. We were all gutted in the dressing room after what happened in Baku and that’s when you need the people around you.
As always, my father had travelled to Baku with the rest of my family to watch me play.
“Just continue the way you’re going,” he said after the match. “You can do it better, you can get even better.”
I’ve listened to my father’s advice throughout my whole career so if he tells me that I can get even better, then that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
Next season… let’s go!
Copyright 2020 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source.