Since last week’s edition it’s a decent few days for Arsenal, hasn’t it? We’ve finally got our man, Alexandre Lacazette. After god knows how many years we’ve finally shelled out the money to bring him to the Emirates for around £52m including add-ons. But anyway, this isn’t about Lacazette. However, the player I’ve chosen for this week could’ve been a motivating factor in Lacazette’s decision as he said the French players of Arsenal’s past drew him towards the club.
In this series, I’ve already touched on a couple of Frenchmen in Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira, but this player arrived a tad later. Moving to Arsenal in July 2000 from Marseille, and then spending the next six years at Highbury. In those six years, he played 284 games, scoring 84 goals which helped us to win two Premier Leagues, three F.A. Cups as well as getting into the team of the season twice and winning the FWA Footballer of the Year in 2001-02. It’s Robert Pires.
Coming into the club as a £6million replacement for Marc Overmars who had left for Barcelona, Pires was definitely a fitting replacement. In his first season at the club he seemed to settle in quite well scoring 8 goals from out wide. Most of these goals weren’t just tap ins either like his memorable first goal against Tottenham which flashed across the goalkeeper after he chopped onto his right foot to free up some space. In true Arsenal fashion, Pires had a knack for scoring against Spurs, eight times in fact, and with his second he managed to secure an F.A. Cup semi-final win against them, unfortunately though Arsenal would be undone by a young Michael Owen in the final.
Back for his second season in England, Pires took the league by storm as he helped us win our second double in four years. Scoring 14 that year, many of which were truly incredible, like that chip away at Aston Villa along with other special goals sprinkled throughout the season he one of the driving forces to the club’s Premier League success that year. He also scored another goal against Spurs from outrageous range to make it three North London Derby goals for himself.
Despite bettering his goal tally the next season with 16, it wasn’t enough to win Arsenal the league that year as Manchester United pipped Arsenal to top spot. But, as ever, there were still great goals to come from Pires. Another goal against Spurs came early in the season but the highlights of the number 7’s year were his first time chip against Southampton which secured his hat-trick, along with his winning goal against them in the F.A. Cup final of 2003.
After the pain on not retaining their title in 2003 Pires and the squad reacted in a way I doubt even fortune tellers could see coming. As we already know, Arsenal went on to win the league without losing a single game that year, but Pires’ contribution isn’t something to gloss over. In that season he bagged 19 goals from out wide which is some achievement. Countless times he turned draws into wins, most notably though with that curler from outside the box away at Anfield. However, his most important goal that season came against Tottenham as he finished off a sweeping move to make sure we did indeed win the league at White Hart Lane that year. So, for the second season running it was a Robert Pires goal that directly led to us lifting some silverware.
It was around this time when Pires was at his peak and it was clearly showing on the pitch. He played another campaign that would see him hit double figures in goals as well as netting against the spuds again. Sadly though, like a couple of seasons before, Bobby’s 17 goals could only get us to 2nd in the league but to make up for it there was another F.A. Cup triumph. Looking back over the season that confirmed the next stage of football with new investors prospering at Chelsea, Pires didn’t fail to get the Arsenal faithful off their feet. My personal highlight of his 2004/05 season was his winner in the nine goal 5-4 thriller against Tottenham. The levels of technique to beat his man before somehow sneaking the ball home with his left foot and then celebrating in front of the Spurs fans still amazes me.
In the case of many Arsenal legends from that era, Highbury’s farewell season was also theirs, and this was the same with Pires. His last season as a whole was very much a good way to remember him rather than his last game as he was sacrificed in the Champions League final for Manuel Almunia who replaced Jens Lehmann in goal.
Throughout the season Bobby would keeping adding special moments to his Arsenal career and here are a few. First off was his eighth and final goal against Spurs, a well taken volley to rescue a point at White Hart Lane. This season was also when he so famously messed up that penalty routine against Manchester City, a moment wew can thankfully laugh about because he did actually score a penalty earlier in that game. And finally, putting himself in Arsenal history forever by scoring in the final game at Highbury against Wigan, a game where Thierry Henry would also score a hat trick.
After the Champions League disappointment Pires moved to Villarreal before retiring at Aston Villa. As we know he’s still very connected with the club having trained with the squad various times over the last few years as well as apparently having ambitions to become Sporting Director of the club. Seeing Lehmann back at the club in a coaching capacity who’s to say Pires won’t return in some form, but back to his playing career, all of us Arsenal fans would like to thank you for your six years at the club and hopefully one day you’ll be back with us.