Robert Pires was “touched and moved” by the ovation he received at Emirates Stadium on Wednesday evening.
The Frenchman was part of a Villarreal side well-beaten by Arsenal on the night but the Champions League tie also served as the “goodbye” the midfielder craved after ending a stellar six-year spell in north London in 2006.
He was cheered as he warmed up and, when walking off the pitch afterwards, Pires’ name rang around the stadium. It was clearly appreciated by former Gunner Pires.
“Personally, I wasn’t expecting such a warm and an amazing welcome from the Arsenal fans,” he said afterwards.
“It shows how great the Arsenal fans are and that they don’t forget their former players. I was really touched and moved by their ovation and the fact that they were singing my name.”
Pires had a decent first-half chance to level the match on the night - and the tie overall - but his shot deflected wide. However the 35-year-old believes Villarreal missed their opportunity last week in Spain.
And, despite the domination of English side, he says threat of the remaining La Liga side will be serious.
“We have some regrets from the first leg where we could have scored more goals and made a bigger difference,” said Pires.
“That’s where we missed the chance to go through. But tonight, Arsenal was too strong for us. Physically, we responded – something we didn’t do in the first leg - but they managed to score more than us.
“We have been saying for years now that the English League is the best in the world. They have their way of doing things and they always have [strong] results.
“England always have the same clubs in the last four of the Champions League which shows that the way they are playing football is, for me, the best but they should watch out for Barcelona.
“They are the only ones left that will try to break the English domination.”Copyright 2016 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