Kieran Tierney tuned up for Wembley with his first goal for Arsenal but admitted: “This has been the toughest year of my life.”
The Scotland defender swapped title processions with boyhood club Celtic for north London last summer.
But Tierney, 23, made the move carrying an injury and the early months of his Gunners career were punctuated by more setbacks.
Since football emerged from lockdown, the £25million full-back has been one of Arsenal's most consistent performers and Tierney looks certain to start in Saturday's FA Cup final with Chelsea.
Yet his journey to peak form and fitness has often been taxing, and he admitted: "It's been the toughest year of my life.
“I've had the injury and a lot of new challenges but you need challenges, you need to be uncomfortable.
"You need to challenge yourself to improve.
"I worked hard every day and I knew it wasn't going to be easy coming to this massive club full of great players. I knew it was going to be tough coming in and trying to get my place in the team.
"I'm just grateful for every opportunity I get to go on the pitch and give my all. I try to repay the manager's faith by working hard and trying to put in good performances.
"It's all about the hard work.”
Tierney looked almost embarrassed when he threaded Arsenal's second goal in the 3-2 win against doomed Watford through at least two deflections.
"I didn't know what to do [to celebrate the goal] so I just turned around," he told the club's website. "I think it was shock! I'll take it, so it was a good day for me personally."
Arsenal had to survive a barrage of 19 shots, and nearly threw away a three-goal lead, before signing off their Premier League season with a narrow win.
Manager Mikel Arteta will now assess his options – especially in defence, where Shkodran Mustafi's hamstring tendon injury will keep him out beyond the start of next season in September – ahead of the Wembley showpiece.
Winning the Cup is Arsenal's last hope of European football in 2020-21 after their lowest Premier League finish since 1995.
Arteta said: “Around the environment as well that we are creating, the unity that the fans, team and club are showing at the moment and I think we are on a good track.
“We have a great opportunity now to have a good season if we are able to win against Chelsea in the final, lift the trophy and qualify for Europe.”
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