Silvestre gunning for glory
After nine years at Manchester United Mikael Silvestre headed down the M1 to join Premier League rivals Arsenal this summer and although he is yet to make his debut the Frenchman believes the Gunners' famed youngsters have brought a new vigour to his game.
Injured for much of last season, playing only five games as the Red Devils scooped the Premier League and Champions League titles, a few eye-brows were raised when Arsene Wenger recruited the 31-year-old; but the fact that United boss Sir Alex Ferguson was sad to see him leave shows he is still a highly-rated defender when fully fit.
Sir Alex did his best to pursuade the France international to stay at Old Trafford but with his contract due to expire at the end of the 2008/09 season and his opportunites limited Silvestre eventually signed a two-year deal with Arsenal and completed his transfer with the reluctant blessing of his former boss.
"He [Ferguson] wasn't pleased with my decision but he understood," Silvestre told ESPNsoccernet. "After nine years of loyalty to United he respected my choice."
"He wished me good luck and said that he would be there if I needed anything."
Not long parted, the duo will be reunited on November 8, but on opposite sides, when Ferguson's champions visit the Emirates Stadium and it is a date that Silvestre, who became the first player to transfer directly between Manchester United and Arsenal since Viv Anderson in 1987, is already looking forward to.
"It is one of the first things I put in my diary," the Arsenal recruit revealed. "November 8th is going to be a strange day. But a lot of players have been through it so I'm not worried about it.
"There is a big rivalry between the two clubs. I just hope it is going to be a good game and I'm sure there's gonna be some fans cheering for me."
United paid Internazionale £3.5 million for Silvestre in September 1999 and he went on to win an array of trophies during his time with the club - including both domestic cups and five Premier League titles - but now he is focused on ending Arsenal's barren run and winning some silverware with his new club.
The Gunners have not won a trophy since the league title in 2003/04 but Silvestre sees no reason why this year should not bear fruit, especially given how close Wenger's team came last season.
"Last year we all expected Arsenal to win something. They did so well in the league and just collapsed at one point, and after everybody tried to catch them and eventually they did. But I don't see any reason why we shouldn't win something this season."
"Every year has to be successful in such a big club so the pressure is on us and we have to deal with it."
But Arsenal have not had the greatest start to the season - with points dropped at Sunderland and two surprise defeats against Fulham and newly promoted Hull City - with the defence receiving some harsh criticism for leaking soft goals.
Three of the five goals the Gunners have conceded in the league this season have come from corners but this is a weakness that the club can quickly put right, according to Silvestre.
"It is not a big issue. It is easy to improve: as long as you are 100% focused and you want to win the ball. I think we are going to progress quite quickly on that.
"But yes I can say that we have been guilty on corners this season, but with more determination we would have coped with these corners."
When Silvestre returns from his thigh injury the verstile defender, who can play at left-back or centre-back, will offer some added vigour to the back line which, unlike the rest of the Arsenal team will have a whiff of, certainly not old age, but experience.
Captain William Gallas, goalkeeper Manuel Almunia and Silvestre are all 31-years-old, elder statesman among a host of young talent, but Silvestre is adament the kids are not making him feel like a veteran.
|“||We keep switching from French to English and sometimes you have to speak a bit of Spanish. It's multi-lingual. ”|
|Mikael Silvestre on life in the Arsenal dressing room|
"No, it is the opposite. I feel younger," the Frenchman laughed. "I feel younger between those guys. It's good. It's a different experience. And maybe being the oldest doesn't change me a lot in my behaviour every day."
During his time at United Silvestre witnessed the emergence of a number of youngsters, with Cristiano Ronaldo probably being the most famous, and is well placed to pass judgement on Arsenal's current crop, although he is unwilling to burden any of them with a comparison to a young Ronaldo.
"There are a lot of youngsters ... you've seen against Sheffield United [in the Carling Cup]. The team is full of talent, the squad and even the academy players are coming through and in training you can see a lot of abilities."
"I couldn't name one because most of the guys are going to make it and they are going to sign pro soon. Even if they are pro already and even if they don't play at Arsenal they are going to play at the highest level in football."
As a former trainee at Rennes Silvestre knows the importance of grabbing your chance and predicts a bright future for Arsenal's next batch of talented kids, but what are the plans for his own future?
"I would like to play in America one day. So If I have still got some energy after my Arsenal career I'll carry on over there. But I don't want to go over there and just wear the shirt. I want to play well and do well in America."
Silvestre's former colleague David Beckham has raised the profile of Major League Soccer since his move from Real Madrid to LA Galaxy in 2007 and many players who would not have previously considered a move to US football are now heading to the States.
But Silvestre is not quite ready to quit the Premier League just yet, a league he has seen develop into one of the best in the world during his time in England.
"I think the overall level of play of all the teams in the Premier League is higher than ten years ago."
"You have seen Liverpool reaching the Champions League final, you've got Chelsea reaching the semi-final three years in a row; last year was Chelsea and United in the final so that means the quality is there.
"The league became the best league in the world."
No wonder then the Silvestre rejected a possible return to France with Laurent Blanc's Bordeaux to continue his career at the highest level with Arsenal.