When Arsenal fans think back to their favourite players at the club, many will recall the likes of strikers such as Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira. While they got the goals, it took others to provide the inspiration.
During a six-year stint at Arsenal, that creative flair was provided by Robert Pires as he stood out as one of the shining lights during the final years of the Gunners’ history at Highbury.
Two Premier League titles and two FA Cup triumphs were achieved during Pires’ heyday at Arsenal, while his final campaign saw his last appearance for the club come in the Champions League final defeat to Barcelona in Paris.
Arriving in 2000 from Marseille, Pires was captured as the replacement to another Arsenal great Marc Overmars following his move to Barcelona. While it took him a while to get going, it became clear the Gunners had another star on their hands.
Pires scored a fantastic solo goal against Lazio in the Champions League in 2001, then scoring the winning goal in an FA Cup semi-final triumph against arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur the same year – although Arsenal lost the final to Liverpool.
By the 2001-02 season, Pires had grown accustomed to the English game and started to show the flair that Arsene Wenger first saw when he moved to bring the France international to the Premier League.
Despite missing a large amount of the campaign through injury, Pires topped the league’s assist charts that season as Arsenal stormed to their second double in four years by lifting the Premier League and the FA Cup.
A lengthy layoff saw Pires struggle to find his form on his return but he soon hit the ground running once again, finishing the 2002-03 season with an impressive 14 league goals in 20 starts, including a hat-trick against Southampton, before then quelling the Saints in the FA Cup final as Arsenal lifted another trophy.
Then came the 49-match unbeaten run and the 2004 Premier League triumph. That season, Pires formed a magical partnership with compatriot Thierry Henry as the two combined for an incredible total of 57 combined goals in all competitions.
Pires was Arsenal’s second top-scorer that season with 14, behind Henry, and his seven assists saw him tied with Dennis Bergkamp for the club’s most assists – showing that Pires was not only an attacking threat of his own but could also be the creative hub for his side.
That flair inspired Arsenal in the years that followed, with the likes of Freddie Ljungberg, Samir Nasri and even Alexis Sanchez crafted into the Pires mould – and all became stars in their own right.
He remains favoured by fans and is often pictured in training ground photos at London Colney, leading many to joke that the club cannot get rid of him and suggesting he would be there throughout time.
Arsene Wenger reportedly approached him to help with coaching in 2016 and he has remained around the club since, now looking to play a part in the development of Arsenal’s next quota of wing wizards – that includes Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Alexi Iwobi and young star Reiss Nelson.
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