Houllier: Pires ready to face Gunners
Gerard Houllier insists Robert Pires is ready to face his old club as Aston Villa prepare for the visit of Arsenal on Saturday lunchtime.
Houllier took a gamble in signing the 37-year-old midfielder on a free transfer, but believes that the Frenchman (who scored 84 times in 238 starts for the Gunners during a six-year spell with the club) is ready for the rigours of the Premier League.
"His fitness is improving but he was fit before coming to us because he trained with Arsenal,'' he said. "I put him on again against Blackburn and he did the full week and he looks okay."
Houllier has acknowledged Pires is not the player he once was, but the Villa boss believes the veteran midfielder will help the club achieve their aims this season.
"He has got an eye for a pass, good movement, intelligence, he was free,'' he said. ''I'm not stupid. I know he has not got the same legs as four or five years ago. But he has got all the qualities and also he can help because we have a team of players who are spinning things around, rushing around everywhere. They play without fear and sometimes I think he will bring a bit more calm to the game."
Pires admits he always hoped he would be given an opportunity and is thankful to both the club and the manager for having faith in him.
"I could have hung up my boots in January, but it would have been very difficult to end things that way," he told L'Equipe. "I wanted to remain in Europe and my only option was England. Experience
"I knew I wouldn't get an offer from Chelsea, Barcelona, Real Madrid or even Lyon. It seems I am too old. Here, though, people don't look at your age. Aston Villa officials wanted me because of my experience."
The midfielder also claims he will show no mercy to the club he once helped dominate English football.
"The match against Arsenal? It is strange because a week ago I was training with them," he said. "I won't do them any favours. Villa's chairman is paying me now!
"I never expected to end my career at Arsenal, even though I trained there for two months. It was a nice dream but things were very clear between me and Wenger."
Villa are also keeping tabs on Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor as Houllier seeks a long-term replacement for Brad Friedel.
Houllier said: ''Yes we went to see him (McGregor) play. I'm very happy with Brad but I'm conscious he is 39 and I'd be silly not to look to the long term.
''Obviously, he didn't have a good game versus Blackburn but, since the start of the season, he's been spot on. He's got experience and I trust him. I think he's a good goalkeeper, been a good buy.
''Long term, we need to prepare for the future. I need to see the reserve goalkeeper (Brad Guzan) as well.''
Houllier admits he is unlikely to make any major moves in the transfer window in January. He expects several of Villa's current crop of injured players to return to action in the next few weeks including Nigel Reo-Coker and Emile Heskey.
He said: ''In January, I don't think I'll make many moves because there will be many injured players coming back. I've seen Reo-Coker running this morning and maybe in two weeks' time he'll be back.
''I am also hoping Heskey starts (training) with us on Monday or Tuesday. I also don't want to buy what we have. It's definitely in midfield where we need to buy one or two players.''