Exclusive interview: Johan Djourou fit and ready to fight for Arsenal

After a year out with serious knee injury, Swiss centre-back is in demand again at the Emirates

JOHAN Djourou and Birmingham’s Sebastian Larsson shared a warm embrace at the end of Saturday’s game, and more than a few Arsenal fans wondered why.

Perhaps that shows just how long ago it is that the pair of then teenaged reserve-team hopefuls made their professional debuts on the same night in Arsenal’s 2-1 Carling Cup win at Manchester City back in October, 2004.

While they shared what is a significant milestone for any young player, their careers have gone on very different paths since, with Larsson leaving Arsenal for Birmingham on loan in 2006 and making the move permanent a year later.

Djourou has stayed at Arsenal, but a look at their respective statistics tells its own story. Larsson has now made over 150 league appearances for City under his belt and is an established Premier League player. Djourou, although 18 months younger, is still relatively unknown.

The 23-year-old Switzerland international is hoping that is about to change, however, following his successful return to the side in the past month following a 12-month recovery from major knee surgery just over a year ago.

“I have been unlucky with injuries but I am hoping that is behind me now,” Djourou told the Gazette after completing his first 90 minutes in the Premier League in almost 18 months on Saturday.

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“I have had a lot of little problems and then the big problem with the knee last year, but now I am fit and can hopefully stay fit.

“I knew that I had to have that operation on my knee and I knew that it was going to take a lot of time. I wanted to come back and come back stronger, sometimes it takes a long time.”

Gradually Djourou accepted that he was not going to play any part for Arsenal last season and then the realisation dawned he would also not be fit in time to play in a second World Cup finals for Switzerland in South Africa. It was a bitter pill to swallow.

“It was very difficult for me, one year on your own when you want to play, it is very hard – sometimes you want to throw everything away but you have to be strong, you know you are going to get the reward in the end. The reward is playing now.

“I always believed in myself and the boss also gave me a lot of confidence to get back to being myself,” added Djourou. “Sometimes after I came back to training I did have doubts because I was not as strong as before and you do start wondering, but in time you get it back.

“When you get a big injury it can take you a bit of time to get back to your full fitness, but I feel a lot better and hope I can build on that now.”

Timing in football is everything. Having missed his chance last season when the Gunners were desperately short in central defence, another one has arisen with Thomas Vermaelen out for six weeks with an achilles injury, and now Laurent Koscielny has a back problem. Djourou is in demand again, and he is not taking it for granted.

“I’ve played in the Carling Cup and the Champions League but it was good to get my first start in the Premier League again, it felt good. I am very happy with how I played and the results [all three games have been won].

“There are big games coming up. For me it is a target to stay fit and try and manage these games.

“I haven’t played three games in a row for a long time so we will see how I feel and see if I can manage it,” he added with an eye on Sunday’s clash at Manchester City, the new face in the top four this season.

“They have the quality to be up there,” he added. “They have the players to be up there and have shown it as well by beating big teams.

“But we have a lot of quality, I think we have the most quality in the league, and now it’s down to us to prove that.

“We have had a lot of critics and people saying we are young, but we are ready now to win something.

“It has been a long time and hopefully it can be this year now.”

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