Aston Villa v Arsenal: Why Robert Pires was the favourite for so many Gunners fans

Frenchman is an Arsenal legend, but could line up against the Gunners at Villa Park tomorrow

THIERRY Henry had the goals, Patrick Vieira the power, Dennis Bergkamp the magician’s touch – but for many fans the man who epitomised Arsenal’s ‘Invincible’ team was Robert Pires.

The Frenchman’s contribution was sometimes overlooked, but never within the walls of Highbury where his creative flair found its perfect home.

That trademark shuffling stride, memorably described by Arsene Wenger as looking like ‘ten to two’ on a clock face was responsible for 84 goals in 238 appearances for the Gunners between 2000 and 2006.

His first season was the only one in which he did not reach double figures of goals, creating a superb left-flank partnership with Ashley Cole, and a telepathic link with his fellow Frenchman Henry.

“To me, before his knee injury, Pires was the best left attacking midfielder in the world,” said Wenger when the 37-year-old returned to London Colney to train with the Gunners in October after his four-year stint in Spain with Villarreal came to an end last summer.

“Even if he has lost the speed of his youth, he can still help at Aston Villa thanks to his knowledge of the game,” added Wenger. The former Gunner came off the bench to make his Villa debut in Sunday’s 2-0 defeat at Blackburn, and could feature against his old club on Saturday.

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With James Milner sold to Manchester City in the summer and Stilian Petrov sidelined by a knee injury, Villa have struggled in midfield this season, with youngsters Barry Bannan, 20, and Jonathan Hogg, 21, starting at Ewood Park.

Stephen Ireland has failed to convince while another ex-Gunner, Steve Sidwell, and skipper Nigel Reo-Coker are also both injured as are veteran target men, John Carew and Emile Heskey.

That has meant regular starts for Marc Albrighton, 21, who has scored three goals in his last six games.

Pires admitted this week it would be ‘strange’ to play against Arsenal so soon after training with the players, but that he is “ready to go” if called upon.

But even if Pires does feature, Arsenal should maintain their 11-year-unbeaten record at Villa Park with a hard-fought win.

Prediction: Villa 1 Arsenal 2