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By ESPN Staff

Pires to make Villarreal debut after long wait

Robert Pires hopes to make his competitive debut for Villarreal by the end of February - some nine months after signing for the club from Arsenal.

Pires joined the Spanish side on a two-year contract from the Gunners last summer but suffered a cruciate ligament injury to his left knee during a pre-season friendly with Cadiz in August.

The former France international underwent surgery in September, and since then the 33-year-old has been on the long road to recovery.

However, Pires can finally see some light at the end of the tunnel.

'I have reached the end of my rehabilitation, I was operated on four months ago. At the end of January, I am going to be able to start training again with the team. I hope to be able to play again at the end of February - but not before,' he said.

Pires is no stranger to serious knee injuries, having missed almost six months of action in 2002 after damaging the cruciate ligaments in his right knee - a setback that ruled him out of that year's World Cup.

The veteran winger, who has received messages of support from the likes of Arsene Wenger, Thierry Henry and Gerard Houllier during his rehabilitation, knows it is important not to come back before he is ready.

'I feel very well but I don't want to rush things. The doctor has warned me to be careful, because the smallest thing can provoke a reaction,' he said in L'Equipe.

'The first time I did this (April 2002), I was back in competition in five and a half months. I am on course for this again.'

Without Pires, Villarreal have picked up 24 points from their opening 17 Primera Liga games, and currently lie 11th in the standings.