"My game is over, the season is over and the World Cup is over."
Laurent Koscielny knew exactly what happened before anyone else could tell him about the severity of his injury. Seven minutes into Arsenal’s Europa League semi-final with Atletico Madrid at the noisy Wanda Metropolitano stadium, the Frenchman collapsed away from the ball. It was his Achilles again.
"The way he went down and his hand went up in the air, and he put his head down towards the floor. I knew straight away this was a serious injury," said Arsenal club doctor Gary O'Driscoll.
The 33-year-old had a history of issues with his Achilles and had previously admitted in 2017 that he needed day-by-day treatment for the rest of his career.
So for Koscielny, the worst possible news became a reality in May 2018 when it was confirmed that he had ruptured his Achilles. It would rule him out for the rest of the season, but, more importantly, sideline him for France’s World Cup tournament - a trophy which they would go on to win in Russia.
"It is difficult being out injured," Koscielny said after making his first appearance in seven months against Qarabag on Thursday night.
"It was the first big injury of my career and I had to take a long time out, but you learn a lot about yourself and I am very happy. I am focused mentally, and I can smile and enjoy the rest of the season."
Koscielny joined Arsenal in 2010 from French side Lorient. The start of his Gunners career provided challenges but he gradually adapted to English football, eventually forming an astute defensive partnership alongside Per Mertesacker. The duo went over 20 months undefeated while playing alongside eachother and gave the team balance to go forward as they aimed for a title challenge.
He is arguably one of Arsene Wenger’s best ever signings for Arsenal, joining for a fee in the region of £10.5 million ($13m) and eventually developing into a Premier League defensive stalwart. He succeeded Mertesacker as Arsenal captain when the German retired from football to become the Gunners’ academy chief this summer, and it is the Frenchman’s leadership qualities which mean he is still a vital cog of the Arsenal squad.
"I think for Koscielny it's good that he's recovered and I also think he recovered in a good time. Every supporter of Arsenal is happy, and also the player,” said Unai Emery after the defender played 72 minutes in the Europa League.
He made one tackle and two clearances against the Azerbajani side, finishing with a 100% pass success rate.
The fans were delighted to see him back on the pitch and the reaction from the substitutes - particularly Alexandre Lacazette and Matteo Guendouzi – who charmingly helped Koscielny put his coat on when he sat back on the bench, reminded everyone at the club of the respect held for such a player.
There is certainly no sentiment afforded to players who are out with long-term injuries or struggle to come back to their best. Koscielny’s seven months of intensive rehabilitation, a period where he saw his country win the World Cup without him and Arsenal sign a new centre-back in Sokratis Papastathopoulos could have been enough to affect his mentality, yet he has come out the other side and achieved the biggest goal he could have hoped for after the injury – play first-team football once again.
Arsenal’s well-documented centre-back problems have certainly improved under Emery. While Shkodran Mustafi has his moments of inconsistency, the addition of Sokratis has proven to be a good one. Rob Holding’s long-term knee injury will have served as a reminder as to how fragile a player’s career can be, while Konstantinos Mavropanos is on the comeback trail with many rating him highly.
Despite all those positives, it is Koscielny who remains the second longest-serving player next to Aaron Ramsey in this Arsenal team. A defender who epitomises class and professionalism both on and off the pitch.
Those gruelling moments in the gym and rehabilitation centre are now over and at 33 years old, Koscielny can now grab the season by the scruff of the neck and show everyone why he has unfinished business at the top level.