VILLARREAL midfielder Robert Pires is looking forward to getting the chance to say a proper goodbye to the Arsenal fans when he takes on his old club in the quarter-finals of the Champions League tonight.
The 35-year-old spent six hugely successful seasons at Highbury, and made his last appearance for the Gunners in the 2006 Champions League final when he was substituted in an early tactical change following the sending off of goalkeeper Jens Lehmann.
Such an exit was not the way Pires wanted to bring the curtain down on an Arsenal career which had seen him help guide Arsene Wenger’s side through an unbeaten Premier League campaign in 2003/2004.
“I have always had a tremendous relationship with the Arsenal fans and these games will be the occasion for me to say goodbye to them,” Pires said.
“Not having been able to say goodbye to them is a pain to me.
“I wanted to have the chance to thank the Highbury public for their support, but I could not do it because my last game was the Champions League final with Barcelona.
“Then I announced my departure to Villarreal three days later and did not see them again. Sincerely, this draw is emotional to me, and fills me with nostalgia as well.”
Pires was sent off in Villarreal’s 3-0 defeat at Almeria at the weekend, in a game which midfielder Santi Cazorla suffered a broken leg.
Spain international Marcos Senna is, though, expected to be fit to face the Gunners.
Manuel Pellegrini’s side remain fourth in La Liga, nine points adrift of third-placed Sevilla and just two ahead of Valencia in the race for a Champions League place.
Pires is confident the Yellow Submarine can progress into a potential semi-final clash against holders Manchester United.
“We can beat them, for sure,” he said. “We would not come on the pitch if we were not convinced that we are good enough to go through.
“I would say that I expect a spectacular game between two teams that look like each other a lot. Hopefully we will see many goals.”
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