18 minutes to go before the final whistle, and Arsenal have just been awarded a penalty. They are 1-0 up in a tight game against Manchester City. For the second time in the afternoon, up steps Frenchman Robert Pires to take it. Barely 11 minutes earlier Pires had given Arsenal the lead when he fired home from the spot past City ‘keeper David James.
So same again, right? Well, apparently Pires forgot to read the script. Instead of calmly slotting the ball home as he had done previously, he passed the ball sideways in an attempt to set up teammate Thierry Henry. Which in itself is a pretty astonishing act of arrogance and disrespect, but also showed that despite the duo’s undoubted quality – they are still pretenders when it comes to emulating the brilliant Johan Cruyff (who pulled off the move successfully for Ajax in the 80s).
But that wasn’t the end of it. Pires failed to connect cleanly with the ball, and took another swing at a pass to Henry, at which point the referree blew for a free kick in City’s favour (it is illegal for a penalty taker to touch the ball twice in succession). Needless to say, the crowd was stunned, none more so than Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, who must have been spewing all manner of French curse words to himself judging by the look on his face.
As it turned out, the Gunners held on for the win, so it didn’t really matter. But just what on earth was Pires thinking?
‘I regret it,’ he said afterwards. ‘We practised it two days ago in training and it went very well. It was Thierry’s idea. I didn’t want to do it because I didn’t feel it was the right kind of game for it. It was too tight. I apologise to the manager and to the fans.’
He didn’t want to do it? Well Henry must have put a knife to his throat in the dressing room before the game, because he didn’t show a hint of reluctance out on the pitch. The next time they are awarded a penalty, Arsenal fans can only hope that Pires stays the hell away from the ball (and the spot).