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Aston Villa vs. Arsenal in FA Cup final

50-50 Challenge
By ESPN Staff

Pires finally decides - a two-year deal with Villarreal

Robert Pires has ended his six-year association with Arsenal after he joined Spanish side Villarreal.

The 32-year-old French midfielder, who won the World Cup in 1998, had hoped to extend his stay with the Gunners as they prepared for the start of a new era at the Emirates Stadium, but wanted the security of a longer-term deal rather than a 12-month extension which was on offer.

In all, Pires made a total of 284 appearances for Arsenal, scoring 84 goals following his £6million move from Marseille during the summer of 2000, when he also helped Les Bleus to European Championship glory.

The midfielder, named Football Writers' Player of the Year in 2002, was instrumental in the Gunners' recent success, helping Arsene Wenger's side to two league championships and collecting two FA Cup winners' medals.

However, his last appearance for Arsenal ended in disappointment when he was substituted after just 20 minutes of the Champions League final against Barcelona in Paris following the dismissal of goalkeeper Jens Lehmann.

Pires maintains he will only have fond memories of his time at Highbury.

He said: 'After six wonderful years at Arsenal, full of fantastic moments, I have decided to accept a new challenge at Villarreal for the next two years of my career.

'I am very grateful to Arsene Wenger, the players and all the fans for their amazing support over the years.'

Wenger moved to strengthen his midfield options earlier this week with the signing of Czech Republic international Tomas Rosicky, 25.

The Arsenal manager, however, knows his squad will be poorer for the departure of Pires.

Wenger said: 'Robert has had six tremendous years with us and made a huge contribution to the team's success during his time here.

'He is not only a great footballer but a good man, so of course, we are sad to see him go.

'It is difficult to pick out one or two highlights - but he was superb in our double winning season during the 2001/02 campaign and contributed so hugely to our unbeaten season with 19 goals.

'I would like to thank Robert for the dedication, determination and passion he has shown and wish him well in his career.'