(Reuters) – Arsenal captain Laurent Koscielny said he finally had a smile back on his face after making a successful comeback from a seven-month injury layoff in Thursday’s 1-0 Europa League victory over Qarabag.
The French defender sustained an Achilles tendon injury against Spanish side Atletico Madrid in the semi-final of last season’s competition and underwent surgery in May.
More disappointment followed when he missed France’s World Cup-winning campaign in Russia earlier this year but the 33-year-old said he was now ready to start afresh.
“I have my smile back and I’ll enjoy it with my club. I’ll start my season now,” Koscielny told Arsenal’s website.
Koscielny had little to do on Thursday as Arsenal, who have already qualified for the last 32 of Europe’s second-tier club competition, eased past the Azerbaijani side thanks to Alexandre Lacazette’s winner.
“It was an important day for me. It was the end of my rehab, so I am happy to play with my team, for this club, and to enjoy it with them on the pitch,” Koscielny added.
“It was emotional because you remember the first day you’re injured … and you have flashbacks about different periods during rehab … there were difficult moments but now I’m more calm and focused on what I want, and physically I’m okay.”
Koscielny’s return is a defensive boost for Arsenal with Rob Holding out for the season due to a knee ligament problem and Konstantinos Mavropanos (groin) and Shkodran Mustafi (hamstring) both battling injury.
Victory against Qarabag extended the club’s winning run in all competitions to 22 games and manager Unai Emery could turn to his captain again when Arsenal return to Premier League action with a trip to Southampton on Sunday.
(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru, editing by Nick Mulvenney)