By Richard Clarke

Arsène Wenger did not want Robert Pires to leave Arsenal for Villarreal in 2006.

The French midfielder must rank as one of the manager’s best signings. Pires provided twinkle-toed balance to the Double-winning side of 2002 and the “Invincibles” of 2004 but his career in North London would end in disappointment.

Pires’ last contribution in his illustrious spell with Arsenal was to make way for substitute keeper Manuel Almunia after Jens Lehmann had been sent off in the Champions League Final of 2006.

Pires moved to Villarreal that summer, much to the regret of his former manager.

“Personally, I wanted to keep him,” said Wegner. “He wanted to go because he wanted a longer contract than one year and you know our policy.

“Also he wanted to play. You know many players here feel the pressure every day of the young players who are ready. It’s not easy to take. You look behind you and you see what's coming behind is strong.

“It’s an everyday challenge from the young boys who are ready to give 100 per cent to show that they are better than you.

“So I believe that he decided to go. He was aware that he would not definitely be automatically first choice. I can understand that. He was at the stage of his career where he wanted to play regularly and, at 33, to come in and out, it’s difficult. Don’t forget, he's almost 36 now.

“But he is someone who I would have loved to have stayed longer. He was such an example, him and Dennis Bergkamp. They were quite similar. You give them a ball and they could have stayed out there on the training pitch the whole day.”

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7 Apr 2009