‘They were very tough, very physical’: The Gunners legend Robert Pires names Chelsea and Manchester United rivals John Terry and Rio Ferdinand as his toughest Premier League opponents
Robert Pires was a star player for Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal in the early 2000s
The Frenchman won two Premier League titles and two FA Cups in north London
And Pires revealed that Terry and Ferdinand, who played for the Gunners’ title rivals Chelsea and Manchester United respectively, provided the most physical battles.
When asked which individual opponents he found most difficult, Pires told the MOTD Top 10 Podcast: ‘In the Premier League, it was John Terry and Rio Ferdinand.
‘Matches against Chelsea and Manchester United were always hard and Terry and Ferdinand were very hard, very physical.’
When Pires arrived in north London in 2000, Manchester United were the dominant force in England having just won the treble under Sir Alex Ferguson. While Ferdinand had not joined Manchester United at that point, he was still impressing against Pires and Arsenal while at Leeds United.
In his second full season at Emirates, the Frenchman guided the north Londoners to the league and cup double in 2002, with Pires winning the Football Writers’ Player of the Year that season.
He was also named in the PFA Team of the Year for three consecutive seasons between 2002 and 2004, the latter being Arsenal’s Invincibles season when they won the Premier League without losing a single game.
Yet the following season, Arsenal lost out in the Premier League title race to Jose Mourinho’s Blues, who were captained by Terry.
But Pires Arsenal’s side gave the league title to John Terry the Blues side the next year.
Despite the success Pires had in England’s top-flight, the ex-Arsenal winger admitted he found the Premier League very difficult to begin with.
He added: ‘Coming from France to play in the Premier League, it was very difficult at the beginning. Arsene Wenger said to me: “It’s not the same football. It’s physical, you need to learn.”
‘My first match was at Sunderland. I was sitting on the bench and after about 20-25 minutes I remember thinking: “Wow, this football is not for me.”‘
The Frenchman then joined Villarreal, where he came up against Ferdinand and Manchester United once again in the Champions League, while he also had brief spells at Aston Villa and FC Goa in India.
Now Pires is still a regular at the Arsenal training ground and has been spotted taking part in certain training sessions over the past few seasons.
Pires, now retired, is still seen at the Arsenal training ground and wants to get into coaching
The former France international, who won the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championships with his country, revealed plans to move into coaching over the next few years.
Pires said: ‘I think coaching is a nice job. Even if it’s tough on a daily basis.
‘I think that in the years to come, I will decide to take the coaching diplomas. And I plan to do it in Spain.’