Wenger awaits old friends
© AFP

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has known fellow Frenchman Gerard Houllier since the 1970s but thought his days in the dugout were over after he went back to his former role of technical director of the French Football Federation.

As Arsenal prepare to face Aston Villa on Saturday Arsene Wenger has experessed surprise at Houllier's decision to return to club management. Houllier had been out of management for more than three years when Aston Villa came calling in September, with the 63-year-old having decided he needed a break following a spell at Lyon. He also suffered a heart scare while Liverpool boss back in 2001, which needed emergency surgery, and spent five months recovering while assistant Phil Thompson led the side.

Wenger, speaking on Friday ahead of the trip to Villa Park, said "I wasn't surprised that Aston Villa took him but I was surprised - because he was in a position as director of the French Football Federation - that he chose to leave his job and come again into a hotseat after what he has gone through."

While he may have been taken aback by Houllier's Villa move, Wenger was not surprised to see his friend bring Robert Pires to the midlands club last week. Pires had been training with former side Arsenal after being released by Villarreal in the summer and despite not re-signing the 37-year-old himself, Wenger was in no doubt he could still do a job in the Premier League.

"I saw what he has been doing in training," he said. "He is the type of player who can help any team in the Premier League, just at that age it is important you use him well at the right moment, but I am not surprised that Gerard Houllier thought about him."

Asked how he would greet Pires at Villa Park, Wenger joked: "Well, Happy to see you and be quiet today!"'

For the second week in a row, Arsenal have the chance to climb to the summit of the Premier League table on Saturday lunch-time, if only for a few hours. To do so they will have to improve on their two most recent results, a 3-2 home defeat at the hands of neighbours Tottenham last weekend and a 2-0 UEFA Champions League reverse at Sporting Braga in mid-week.