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Pirès braced for night of emotion

Published: Tuesday 7 April 2009, 4.57CET
In an exclusive interview with, Villarreal CF midfielder Robert Pirès revealed "it was my goal to face Arsenal before retiring and to say goodbye to their tremendous fans" as he looked ahead to their meeting.
by Graham Hunter
from Villarreal
Pirès braced for night of emotion
Villarreal midfield player Robert Pirès ©Getty Images

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Published: Tuesday 7 April 2009, 4.57CET

Pirès braced for night of emotion

In an exclusive interview with, Villarreal CF midfielder Robert Pirès revealed "it was my goal to face Arsenal before retiring and to say goodbye to their tremendous fans" as he looked ahead to their meeting.

When Robert Pirès jogs out to face his former club Arsenal FC in a UEFA Champions League quarter-final first leg at El Madrigal the Frenchman will be coping with a myriad of emotions.

Paris heartbreak
Sentiment at facing his former team, a club he still loves, will be foremost in the mind of the Villarreal CF midfielder. Hungry ambition to win the competition which broke his heart in Paris three years ago, when losing the final to FC Barcelona, will not be far behind. And there will be pride that the Liga club have just renewed his contract until 2010, at the age of 35, because he remains one of the cleverest, most important and fittest footballers in Spain. But he won't suffer a thirst for revenge.

Total disbelief
It was in an interview with earlier this season that Pirès said he thought it was a "practical joke" when he saw his number being hoisted to be substituted when Jens Lehmann was red carded after 18 minutes of that Paris final. The Frenchman felt hurt, and decided that what he saw as a lack of trust in him by Arsène Wenger meant he had to leave the club. Typically, however, Pirès has confronted his anger, talked it through with his former mentor and refuses to let the idea of revenge obstruct his purer desire to simply help Villarreal impose themselves on the Gunners.

Arsenal emotion
"The fact that I was only allowed to play 18 minutes in that final three years ago remains painful, there's no point in denying that now," he told "Wenger knows it and we still talk about it – he knows that, despite me admitting that it's tough to be a coach, I'll never agree with him that he made the right decision. But it's a little thing which cannot define our relationship. It cannot erase six years when I won trophies, learned from him, grew in confidence and did well with France's national team. I've put it behind me. When I go out to face Arsenal for the first time since leaving there will be a lot of emotion, that's sure. But I'm sorry, Arsenal fans, if I can play well and eliminate them then I'm going to do it. But for Villarreal, not for me."

Lucky victory
Pirès has played in this fixture before, wearing an Arsenal shirt when the two sides met three years ago in the semi-finals. It brought the only defeat Villarreal have suffered in nine competitive meetings with English club sides and sent Pirès, Wenger and company through to the 2006 final. The midfielder has a startlingly clear verdict on Arsenal's semi-final triumph over Villarreal and some around him in the Madrigal dressing room have also drawn firm conclusions. "We played the worst game of our season that night and Villarreal not only deserved to beat us but by a big enough margin to reach the final instead of Arsenal," he said. "Somehow Villarreal had more energy, more drive and played much better. Arsenal had the luck that night. The guys who were in Villarreal's team that night were telling me before this draw paired us with Arsenal that if we drew them again then Villarreal would definitely win over two legs this time."

Goal celebration
Wenger was on the telephone to Pirès within hours of the draw in Nyon. They shared their delight at a competitive reunion. The younger Frenchman is sure that Villarreal have progressed sufficiently to earn the result which eluded them due to that goalless second leg at the Madrigal in 2006, following Arsenal's win at Highbury. And if he should score against his former club – is he prepared? "I'm happy with the draw because it was my goal to face Arsenal at least once before retiring and to say goodbye to tremendous fans who were great to me in London. That's important," he said. "And if I'm lucky enough to score I know that I won't celebrate, simply as a gesture of respect to a club, and their fans, which have meant so much in my career."

Last updated: 07/04/09 22.24CET

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