After nine months of heartbreak, sweat and tears, Jordan Nobbs has something of a point to prove.
“I want to be the best midfielder in the league this year,” Nobbs says with the swagger you expect from someone who has been capped 56 times by England.
And with her talent and ability, you certainly wouldn’t back against her doing just that.
Nobbs, 26, is determined to make up for lost time after she was robbed of a place in England’s Women’s World Cup squad this summer and Arsenal’s title run-in having ruptured her anterior cruciate ligament against Everton last November.
That unfortunate incident came when Nobbs was in the form of her life, having scored nine goals in her first eight league games last season, and such a horrendous injury proved difficult to come to terms with for the midfielder in such a crucial year.
Speaking exclusively to talkSPORT, she said: “I knew straight away [that it was serious]. I heard it pop. I think probably because Kim Little and Danielle Carter had done theirs, I heard what they felt and I definitely knew that my feeling was very similar.
“I just kept swearing and saying, ‘I’ve done it, I’ve done it’, because I knew I had done it. No footballer wants to do their ACL.
“I’ve had nine months of some terrible days – days where I’ve come into the training ground and I’ve wanted to leave straight away.
“There’s been days where I’ve been in the gym and I’ve got upset because I’ve seen all the girls go out training and I’m doing the bare minimum in there but I’m in there for very long periods of the day. I think it does make you stronger and it does make you appreciate every single bit of being a footballer.
“I felt probably in one of the best places I’ve been in; I was scoring goals and felt physically in a great place. Injuries happen and come and these last few weeks, I’ve felt back to myself again.
“I’m pretty sure there’s some good times for me to come but 100 per cent it’s been one of the hardest times of my career.”
Nobbs has been a mainstay in the England set-up since making her debut in 2013, and she would have undoubtedly been a shoo-in for Phil Neville’s squad at the World Cup in France last summer had she been fit.
In a cruel twist of fate, this is the second World Cup in a row which has been disrupted by injury for the Arsenal midfielder, as a hamstring issue in the build-up to the previous tournament in Canada back in 2015 restricted her to just one appearance, against Colombia in the group stage.
It is an injustice that Nobbs has never been able to show what she can really do on the world stage and, understandably, she initially wanted the tournament to finish as quickly as possible so she could focus on her recovery.
However, the England international feels the opportunity to work as pundit during the tournament helped her come to terms with the task ahead.
“There’s going to be periods in your life where you miss out as a footballer and I guess it’s about how you deal with them but also allowing yourself to be emotional that you’ve missed something so major,” she continues.
“It was heartbreaking for me but looking back now, time has healed that. Right now I want to put that into the back of my mind and carry on looking forward to the rest of the season. It was tough then but now I’m not thinking or talking about the World Cup.
“In probably a selfish way, working as a pundit actually made the World Cup go quicker and I wanted the World Cup to go in a week if it could, so I could be back at Arsenal playing football again.
“It allowed me to concentrate on a job role and I couldn’t be more grateful to the BBC for giving me that opportunity because it honestly allowed me to get fit and come back stronger.”
Her road to recovery has been documented in a fly on the wall documentary on Arsenal’s YouTube channel, which shows just how gruelling and mentally draining it is to get back to full fitness following such a serious injury.
During her rehabilitation, the midfielder developed a close relationship with Rob Holding, which is shown during the documentary, who coincidentally ruptured his ACL just a few weeks after Nobbs while playing against Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Holding is a little bit behind Nobbs in terms of his recovery, but for the midfielder, having someone to go through the same experience with proved to be just what the doctor ordered.
“Me and Rob did our coaching licence together so when we did our knees a few weeks apart, it was incredibly unfortunate luck,” she explains.
“We were in the gym a lot and he’s been a massive part of my rehab. He’s one of the most positive, smiley people I’ve ever met. He was the perfect person to be around in the gym and just talk about things at times in terms of feelings I had in my knee. It’s nice to hear someone else have the same feeling that you do and something is not wrong.
“Obviously, the likes of Ivan Gazidis and the people higher up at Arsenal all messaged me as I’ve been here for nine years and they know how much I love this club.”
Nobbs is now back fit and nine months of hard work paid off when she made a dream return to action against Arsenal’s arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur in a pre-season friendly, grabbing the headlines after scoring just five minutes after coming off the bench.
She was also among the substitutes for Arsenal’s first Women’s Super League game of the season against West Ham, being introduced late in the 2-1 win on Sunday.
Nobbs, furthermore, is set to feature against Fiorentina on Thursday when Arsenal get their Champions League campaign under way.
“The fact that it came in the first five minutes was incredible,” said Nobbs of her goal against Spurs, which came from her first shot.
“At the end of the game, I couldn’t remember how I scored it because I think it was just the build-up of nine months of emotion.
“Even now, I think some things are still a little bit raw and you just want to be playing 90 minutes all the time. But that moment for me to come on at Boreham Wood again was an incredible feeling, not emotionally, but more just the thrill of playing football again.
“I’ve never been prouder and more privileged to pull on an Arsenal shirt. My loyalty hopefully shows how much this club means to me and with the amount of trophies I’ve won, I want to keep winning with an Arsenal shirt on.
“Hopefully, there’s more of that to come.”
The challenge for the midfielder and her team-mates now is to claim back-to-back WSL titles after the Gunners won the division for the first time in seven years with a 4-0 win over Brighton.
Free-scoring Vivianne Miedema’s form will undoubtedly be key to Arsenal’s chances of retaining the title, having finished as the WSL’s top scorer with 22 goals, but having Nobbs back in the side alongside her England team-mates Leah Williamson and Beth Mead will be a huge boost to head coach Joe Montemurro.
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Interest in women’s football has never been so high, especially after England’s progression to the semi-finals of the World Cup, with Chelsea and Manchester City playing their opening matches of the season at Stamford Bridge and the Etihad Stadium respectively last weekend.
Playing in front of bigger crowds is something Nobbs would like to see and she believes Barclays’ landmark sponsorship of the WSL will undoubtedly take the league to new heights.
She said: “It’s incredible that they’ve come in and said they want to work with women and support women. It’s the only way we’re going to keep going. More sponsorships and more TV games are a big part of showing the world what we can do.
“With the way it’s going, it’s trial and error with things. I think yes, we want to be playing at big stadiums but also, is it right for the women’s game?
“I think we will only see now that we’re trying it and I think it’s great that we’re being given the opportunity to be able to do that. But I think we also need to be doing things for the right reasons.
“If we’re getting big crowds in or we’re getting a lot more people coming to watch because we’re playing at bigger stadiums, then we need to keep doing it. Hopefully, the likes of the big clubs will keep pushing that.”