By Richard Clarke
Strength is not the first quality you associate with Robert Pires.
When Arsène Wenger brought him over from Marseille in 2000, the word was that the moustachioed midfielder would not be tough enough for the English game.
His touch was exquisite and his vision 20:20 but send him to Middlesbrough on a wet Tuesday night in February and he would go missing.
He was too much of a fancy d’Artagnan.
In fact, Pires' career has been anything but. Certainly his swashbuckling skills make him one of the most technically-gifted players ever to have worn Arsenal’s shirt.
But his comeback from a career-threatening injury in 2002 and continued success since leaving for Villarreal in 2006 smacks of a player whose fortitude – both mental and physical - has been clearly underestimated.
“He was questioned in France about [his strength] when I took him,” said Wenger. “And people told me ‘you have made a mistake’.
“But I had enough confidence in his football intelligence and his quality. I think I was proven right because he’s one of the greatest players to have played for us.
“He is a lot tougher than people thought. He just extended his contract [at Villarreal] last week. He was born in 1973 that means that in October he will be 36 yet he signs for one more year. To do it at this level you need steel.
“I didn’t really expect him to last as long as that,” Wenger went on. “He has taken advantage of a different style in Spain, it's less physical.
“As well, what I already noticed when he was here is that he is a fantastic trainer, Robert. You give him the ball and you say ‘we start at 8am and finish at 2pm’ and he is happy. He loves to practice, he loves to play and has a serious life.
“On the outside, Robert is very soft, very welcoming but on the inside he hides well his determination. I expect him to be very highly motivated to do well against us. It’s what I expect when you’re in the Quarter Final of the Champions League and I expect that from all my opponents.”
But especially one as strong as Robert Pires.Copyright 2013 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 7 Apr 2009