Lucas Torreira hopes to mark his 50th appearance at Arsenal by winning the Europa League and justifying the sacrifices he has made to create a life for himself away from Uruguay.
The 23-year-old has impressed throughout his first season in England, providing a bite and tenacity to Arsenal’s midfield which arguably has been absent since Alex Song’s departure in 2012.
His arrival has perhaps been the most significant since Arsene Wenger’s exit last summer, and he will also be crucial in Baku against Chelsea if Arsenal are to succeed.
“It was very difficult to leave Uruguay,” he said.
“It’s never easy to leave your country, your family, your friends. It’s a different culture, a different language and really another world.
“I left at just 17 to go to such a big country as Italy (to play for Pescara). I had these warts on my feet that meant I could not train properly and my boots would hurt, but at no point did I hold up my hand and say I was in pain.
“It was an opportunity to change my life, and change the lives of my family and really make a name for myself. The pain went on for a long time until one day they took me to the doctor and I was able to get the treatment I needed.
“You are always Uruguayan when you go out onto the field. I haven’t been able to get back to the country all season. (But) I’m the only player from Uruguay left in the Europa League or Champions League so I’m well aware that I’m going to have the whole country following the final.
“We are a country of football lovers and we always keep a close eye on footballers who are playing abroad. Diego Forlan (a Europa League winner in 2010) was a massive influence for all footballers who dreamed of going on to play at the highest level, in the biggest leagues.
“He is an idol. All Uruguayans were interested in his career.”
Only Torreira’s parents, partner and uncle will attend the final in Azerbaijan’s capital owing to the difficulties involved in travelling there.
“My parents are here, and they are going to go to the final as well as my girlfriend and uncle, who lives in Tenerife,” he said.
“The others are going to be following from Uruguay because it has not been easy with ticketing and travel.
“We were just the one point off the top four and that would have changed everything. But we do have a fantastic opportunity to get into the Champions League and also win a cup.”