Robert Pires played for Marseille and Arsenal during his glittering football career, helping Les Phoceens to the UEFA Cup final before winning two Premier League titles, two FA Cups and being a Champions League finalist with the Gunners.
As his former clubs prepare for the second legs of their Europa League semi-finals – Marseille take a 2-0 lead to Red Bull Salzburg while Arsenal are level at 1-1 with Atletico Madrid ahead of their trip to Spain – bwin talks to the former France international about their chances of reaching the showpiece in Lyon.
Who do you think are favourites to win the Europa League?
Atletico Madrid are favourites to win the Europa League because they are an excellent team who have a very good manager. They have won the Europa League before and a lot of these players have played in Champions League finals. They’re not afraid of big pressure games and have proven they can play at that level.
Do you think Arsenal will pay the price for missed chances in the first leg?
Arsenal really should have scored more goals against Atletico Madrid at The Emirates. It is very important to take your chances at the elite level and unfortunately they failed to do so against 10 men. The players missed a lot of chances and this is a problem for Arsenal going into tonight’s game.
Do you think Arsenal will get past Atletico Madrid tonight?
I think Arsenal will get past Atletico Madrid tonight and they will win the Europa League. I think it will be 2-2 tonight and Arsenal will go through on away goals. I think the players are very focused on the game and they’re very motivated to perform knowing their new manager will be watching somewhere.
How important is it that Arsenal win the Europa League?
Arsenal need to win the Europa League because it’s very important that the club qualifies for the Champions League next season. The job for the new manager becomes much more difficult without it because Champions League football is very important for attracting the elite players. The Europa League is Arsene Wenger’s final mission as Arsenal manager and he will be fighting until the end to make sure he leaves the club in the best possible position.
Will this season be a success for Arsenal if they win the Europa League?
I think this season will be a success for Arsenal if they win the Europa League because it would have been one of the club’s key objectives at the start of the season. The performances have been very disappointing in the Premier League and the club will be looking to compete for the title as soon as possible, but Arsenal can save their season if they win the Europa League.
Do you think Diego Simeone would be a good choice to replace Arsene Wenger?
I don’t know if Diego Simeone would be the perfect fit for Arsenal. He’s a fantastic manager and he’s doing an amazing job at Atletico Madrid. He competes with Real Madrid and Barcelona every year and has reached the Champions League final, but his philosophy is maybe too defensive. Arsenal play fantastic attacking football and I think it’s important that the new manager continues with this philosophy.
Marseille beat Red Bull Salzberg 2-0 in the first leg. What did you think to the performance?
I think Marseille were quite lucky to win the first game against Red Bull Salzberg, but sometimes you need that bit of luck to win trophies. Marseille are very comfortable at home and they play very well because the support from the fans give them a lot of energy.
Who are the key players for Marseille against Red Bull Salzberg tonight?
I think Marseille need to score against Red Bull Salzberg to reach the Europa League final. Red Bull Salzberg are a very good team at home and they have already beaten good teams like Lazio this season. The key players will be Dimitri Payet and Florian Thauvin who have scored a lot of goals and made a lot of assists this season. That duo is very important to Marseille’s success in the Europa League.
Have you been impressed with Marseille this season?
Marseille have had a fantastic season in Ligue 1 and in the Europa League. It could become even better if the club were to finish second in the league and win the Europa League! The club have performed very well since January and Rudi Garcia has found great stability in the team. The manager has a lot of experience and the team has been very impressive.
Have you been impressed with Florian Thauvin since he signed for Marseille?
I think Thauvin has been a fantastic signing for Marseille and he is my favourite player at the club. He has scored a lot of goals and he is filled with confidence. He found it very tough in the Premier League when he was at Newcastle United, but he is now performing very well for Marseille. He struggled to adapt to England but France is his home.