Pires backs Gunners to win Europa League
Former Arsenal winger believes they will return to Europe's elite soon
Arsenal's one chance at salvaging their turbulent season lies in the Europa League, and club legend Robert Pires has backed them to win it and return to Europe's elite.
The Frenchman, 44, believes Arsene Wenger's men have what it takes to oust Atletico Madrid in the semi-finals before going on to beat either Marseille or Salzburg in next month's Lyon final to qualify for next season's Champions League.
Pires, who was in Singapore yesterday for the launch of the International Champions Cup (ICC) at the ArtScience Museum, had previously picked both the Gunners and Atletico as favourites to win Europe's second-tier competition.
He said of their semi-final meeting yesterday: "It would be very difficult against one of the best Spanish teams, so I don't know what will happen but Arsenal are a very good team with talents and have a good opportunity to win the Europa League.
"We'll wait and see, but I'm very confident when I talk about Arsenal."
Besides his former club Arsenal, Singapore fans can also catch Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and Atletico at the ICC in July.
Arsenal and Atletico will kick off the pre-season tournament at the National Stadium on July 26.
The Gunners face PSG two days later, before Atletico and PSG wrap up the tournament on July 30.
Former Atletico Madrid midfielder Jose Luis Caminero, who was also at the ICC launch, agreed that the Europa League semi-final against Arsenal will be a tough one, stating that both sides have amazing players.
Pires, who won two English Premier League titles with the Gunners in 2001/02 and 2003/04, has urged the current side to seize their home advantage in the semi-final, first leg on April 26.
Having a good result will put them in good stead when they face Diego Simeone's men at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium in the return leg on May 3.
He said: "The most important thing is the first game at the Emirates. It's very important to be focused, to prepare well for this game because Atletico are favourites for the competition, but Arsenal have a very good opportunity to lift a trophy at the end of the Europa League."
Pires admitted that winning the Europa League would be important in appeasing Arsenal's increasingly frustrated fans.
It is also the only ticket back to the Champions League for Arsenal who are lying sixth in the English Premier League.
This season is the first in 20 years that the Gunners have found themselves out of Europe's premier club competition.
But Pires, a key figure in Wenger's title-winning "Invicibles" side that went undefeated in their 2003/04 campaign, has voiced support for his fellow countryman.
While he said that the current Arsenal team and the "Invicibles" are different sides, he maintained his faith in Wenger and his team.
He said: "I believe always in the club, I believe in Arsene Wenger, he's the man, he's the manager for Arsenal because he built something, he built good football, he built a good philosophy."
INTERNATIONAL CHAMPIONS CUP
- July 26: Atletico Madrid v Arsenal
- July 28: Arsenal v Paris St Germain
- July 30: Paris St Germain v Atletico
Tickets will go on sale at www.sportshub.com.sg on April 30, 10am.
UnionPay members get a 10 per cent discount on tickets, starting on April 24 and throughout the on-sale period.
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