By Richard Clarke in Villarreal
Even though Arsène Wenger handed him “the worst moment of his career”, Robert Pires will take the trouble to thank the Arsenal manager after Tuesday night’s Champions League tie at Villarreal.
The French midfielder was sacrificed for keeper Manuel Almunia in the 2006 Final after Jens Lehmann had been sent off in the 18th minute.
As it turned out it was the last appearance of Pires’ Arsenal career. Just days after that game he told Wenger he was leaving for Villarreal but not before he asked for an explanation for that decision at the Stade de France.
“The final in Paris was the worst moment of my career and two days afterwards I went to Arsène Wenger to speak about two things,” said Pires on Monday night.
“The first thing was that I would leave and join Villarreal. The second thing was that I wanted to know why he took me off in the Final.
“He said that with me the team would have played more defensively.
“I don’t feel angry with Arsène Wenger at all and when I see him I will thank him.
“But I thought I would end my career there. In the Final in Barcelona you could see that Wenger had lost his confidence in me. So I left to join Villarreal.
“I have been in contact with Arsène Wenger for the past three years. He is a manager I won’t be able to forget because I learnt so much from him. He made me play and win trophies at a very high level. That is important for a club and a player.”
And Pires' star is still shining. He will be 36 in October and yet has just been handed a contract extension at a side who, like Arsenal, are hoping to reach the Champions League Semi-Final for the second time in four years.
The Frenchman himself is even prepared to look beyond that.
“People don’t see Villarreal as potential winners of the Champions League,” he said. “But we think that we can get to the Final and then it is a one-off game.
“I would like to thank the President and the General Manager here for giving me another year - that means a lot to me. And I would love to end this season with a title.”Copyright 2017 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source