Gunners favourite Robert Pires talks Arsenal and Arsene Wenger


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Former Arsenal favourite Robert Pires enjoyed plenty of success as part of the ‘Invincibles’ team and is now part of the coaching staff at the club. In an exclusive interview with bwin, he discusses Arsenal’s season, their hopes of beating Chelsea in the FA Cup final, and what the future holds for both the Gunners and manager Arsene Wenger.

Robert on the FA Cup victory against Manchester City…

“It’s a fantastic achievement to reach another FA Cup final. A lot of fans in this country know how important it is to win this cup. Looking back at the game, of course there were moments where we got lucky, but over the course of a season or a cup run you’re always going to have elements of luck involved.

“We got very lucky at times but if you look at the second half, we deserved to win the game. The team played together, they were committed, compact and strong – especially in defence – and I think we absolutely deserved to win.”

Robert on facing Chelsea in the final…

“It will be an incredibly difficult game, Chelsea are a fantastic team, but this is a final – it’s one game. It’s important the players and the fans forget about the result at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season. This is Wembley, it’s a final. I think we will win the final, but Chelsea will be champions of England. We can play at a very high level in any game and I’m very confident.”

Robert on whether he’d prefer a top-four place or an FA Cup win…

“I always want to see Arsenal finish in the top four. Champions League is incredibly important for the club, fans and players. I understand that you cannot give up a big trophy like the FA Cup but Champions League is much better for the club. But I think Arsenal will finish in the top four and win the FA Cup.”

Robert on if he would swap Arsenal’s season for Tottenham’s…

“It’s difficult to admit that and would I swap? No, but I hope we won’t need to. Tottenham are playing extremely well this season and are fighting for the league. Pochettino is a very good manager and the quality of his team is much better than when I played against them. But to choose having Tottenham’s season over Arsenal wouldn’t be right for me.”

Robert on Arsene Wenger’s decision to change formations…

 

“I train with the players week in week out and I want to make one thing very clear, it doesn’t matter what formation you play, if you’ve got good enough, smart enough players, you can play any formation. I think the formation has really benefitted Laurent Koscielny, who controls the back line, but he has great mental capacity to take in this change and orchestrate the defence.

“This is a completely new change for Arsene. It wasn’t strange for me, but I was surprised when he decided to change to a 3-4-3 against Middlesbrough. I said ‘wow, what’s happened Arsene?’ He can, and he wants to change tactics and formations. It’s great for him, great for the team and when I saw the performance against Manchester City, it’s clear that this decision has been vindicated.

“When players like Gabriel and Rob Holding perform the way they did in that game, it shows how the team are benefitting from the change to three at the back. It’s a good strategy.”

Robert on the fan protests…

“I understand the fans and it’s quite right to criticise the players when they’re not performing and it’s down to the players to prove those critics wrong. You’re not always going to win the league, it’s impossible and there are so many good teams in this league. My message to the fans is be patient. Arsene has done well for a long, long time and he knows that the fans want to compete in the Premier League and he’s doing his best to make sure that happens.

“Of course there are reasons why it hasn’t happened this season, but Arsene is 100% the right man for the job. I want Arsene to extend his contract for two or three more seasons, I’ve made that very clear. I think we can challenge for the league next year.”

Robert on Arsene’s comments that nothing is good enough for the fans any more…

“I completely agree but I understand it from a fan’s perspective because I myself am a fan of Arsenal. I can’t make it clearer, every season there is one main objective, win the Premier League – if we don’t then we’ve failed. Of course expectations are high because of the past glory but with increased competition, it’s much more difficult now to win the title.”

Robert on why Arsenal have struggled in the League this season…

Santi Cazorla – his loss really affected this team and I’m sure if we’d have had Santi playing, we’d be much higher up. He’s such a difficult player to replace because technically, he’s one of the best players in the Premier League. I know Santi very well, and played with him at Villarreal, and I remember saying ‘who is this guy?!’

“He is an exceptionally talented footballer. He’s the metronome, he dictates play and can play with both feet, which keeps defenders honest. The most important thing is that he can control the ball and the tempo of the team and when you’re in a tough situation, he is calm and can keep the team playing.”

Robert on whether he’s forgiven Jens Lehmann for the Champions League final…

“It wasn’t Jens’ fault! It was the referee’s. I have a very good relationship with Jens and other former players and still keep in touch with them.”

Robert on if Arsenal can get to the final again and win the Champions League…

“Yes, I think we can repeat 2006 but it’s such a hard competition, with teams playing at a very high level. I know Arsene loves the Champions League but I think if you gave him the option of winning the Champions League or Premier League, he’d probably pick winning the Premier League.”

Robert on Monaco’s chances of winning the Champions League…

“Monaco have a very good chance to win the Champions League. They are the best team in France and in Europe, because they have the best striker in Europe at the moment, Kylian Mbappe. Yes, we talk about Mbappe and Falcao but they also have Valere Germain and Thomas Lemar. They don’t have one or two players, they have a complete team.”

Robert on Kylian Mbappe and the comparisons to Thierry Henry…

“The comparison is unnecessary, he’s not ready to be compared to Thierry. Mbappe is a very similar player but to compare the two players would be unfair. I hope that Kylian can follow in the footsteps of Thierry Henry, he has the same profile as Thierry – quick, strong and a great finisher – but he’s very young so I would hold off on comparisons just yet.

“I do think Arsenal will sign him. The problem is how much. Mbappe has the potential to play for Arsenal and Wenger is the right manager to manage him. Monaco and Arsenal are very similar in clubs, so it won’t be much of a transition.”

Robert on the current group of players compared to the players he played with…

“This is tough, you’re talking about some of the greatest players ever to play in the Premier League when I played – Vieira, Henry, Bergkamp, Ljungberg and Tony Adams. It’s a very good past and should not be compared to the current group. I think the quality of the players back then was better than now, but this current group is also special.”

Robert on Mesut Ozil…

“I think the treatment of Mesut is wrong. Of course footballers will get criticism, but I think the criticism towards him has been over the top. Mesut Ozil is an incredibly important footballer for Arsenal, Arsene Wenger and the team. One thing I want to pick up on is fans calling Mesut Ozil lazy. Seriously, it’s crazy – this is a massive misconception. He wants to work hard, he wants to do the dirty work for the team because he’s a winner. I don’t agree with fans who make these claims.

“Everyone knows that Mesut Ozil is a world-class player but sometimes you play well and sometimes you don’t and I think too much is made of when he doesn’t play well. It’s impossible to play on the same level for 10 months, trust me.”

Robert on whether he’d like to coach full time…

 

“I’m in a privileged position where I train with the team every day and I can give them advice and certain skills but I don’t want to coach. I’m just enjoying playing with them. At the moment, I don’t want to coach – it’s an incredibly tough job to coach. What’s important for me at the moment is to enjoy my time with my family, enjoy my time on the pitch with the players and to support the club as a fan. Maybe one day, sure why not, but it’s not on my plate at the moment.”

Robert on Wenger’s coaching tree and why a lot of former players, like Patrick Vieira, are not in the current set-up…

“This is one question I can’t give you one straight answer. It’s not normal that someone like Patrick Vieira is managing New York City and not coaching at Arsenal Football Club. I think one day we’ll see Patrick, Thierry, Tony Adams and so on at the club in some capacity. Fans need to be patient. Arsenal will be preparing for the future without Arsene Wenger and I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw those names in the set-up when he leaves.

“I would really like to see Dennis Bergkamp working with the Arsenal Academy – 100%. It’s possible. He has Arsenal DNA and knows how Arsenal play, so he would be a perfect person to take over the youth team.”

Robert on who was the most underrated player in the Invincibles team and which player he would have from that team today…

“It’s difficult to pick one or the other. Obviously Thierry and Patrick were vital to that team but we won that season as a team. However, if I was to pick one, I would pick Gilberto Silva; he was the N’Golo Kante of his day.”

Robert on the one player he would sign for Arsenal Football Club if he was manager…

“Antoine Griezmann. He’s the perfect signing for Arsenal, but I know he’ll be very expensive. I think he’ll break the £100million mark and I know Manchester United are keen to buy him, but for me, if I had the chance I would spend every penny I have on Griezmann. He’s one of the best players in the world not named Ronaldo or Messi.”

Robert on if Wenger was to leave, where would he manage…

“If Arsene does leave, I think he will take the national team job at France – it would be great to see him do that.”

Robert on N’Golo Kante…

“I would like to congratulate N’Golo Kante on his award and the last two seasons. It’s a remarkable story. His biggest asset is his consistency and regularity. He rarely misses any games, he’s always available for selection and he’s incredibly consistent in his performances, he very rarely has a bad game. He’s an incredibly intelligent player and his interceptions and tackles are a result of reading the game and being in the right places at the right times. You can’t learn that, you either have a knack for it or you don’t.

“He is like Gilberto Silva, in French we say he is a player in the shadow. You don’t necessarily notice them until they’re not there. In my opinion everyone talks about Costa and Hazard because they score and create beautiful goals and the job N’Golo does isn’t necessarily beautiful, but it’s an art.”

Robert on which player in France can replicate N’Golo Kante’s success…

“For me, it’s Thomas Lemar from Monaco. I love him as a footballer, he’s a brilliant player. I think he can be the star player for France in the next five years, he’s that talented.”

Robert on Paul Pogba – is he overrated?

“To call Paul Pogba a flop and overrated is a lazy statement. I think he’s just getting started and will only get better. People are still forgetting he’s a young player, he’s only 24, so United fans need to be patient with him. It’s not Pogba’s fault that Manchester United spent the money they did on him. He’s got so much potential to be the best player in the world in a few years.”

Robert on Metz, his memories of playing for the club and their current struggles…

“Signing my first professional contract is still one of the best days of my life. I was 18 years old and it was a dream come true, as I always wanted to be a professional footballer. At the moment, it’s a very difficult time for the club, they are struggling and they should be achieving higher. They are a small team, but have great quality and should be higher than they currently are based on this.”

Robert on Marseille, his on and off-the-field issues at the club and whether he regrets his time there…

“It was a very difficult time but I don’t have any regrets about playing for the club, it’s a fantastic club – one of the best in France – but there’s a lot of pressure from the fans. The most important thing as a young French footballer playing for Marseille is to learn as much as you can. I learnt an incredible amount at the club and that helped me when I moved to England.”

Robert on Marseille’s performances this season…

“If you’re going to compare Marseille with one team in England, they are like Liverpool. They have a very talented team, with very exciting players, but they struggle consistently to challenge for the title. Ahead of them are the likes of Monaco, PSG, Lyon and Nice – who have been a great surprise this season (a bit like Leicester), so for Marseille it’s about where they should be.”

Robert on Villarreal’s chances of Champions League football…

“Absolutely, I think they can secure Champions League football next season. They beat Atletico Madrid and are only a few points behind Sevilla now. They’re very talented and have a great philosophy with their young players, so it would be great to see them back in the Champions League. The one player I love is Mateo Musacchio; he’s an outstanding defender.”

Tags: Arsenal Monaco
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