Football: Pires not impressed by move to Arsenal

ROBERT PIRES, Marseilles's attacking midfielder, claimed yesterday that he had been approached by Arsenal, but he is afraid that if he leaves France he will jeopardise his chances of playing for his country in Euro 2000.

Pires believes the time it would take him to adapt to life in England could cost him at national level. The 26-year-old told the French sports daily L'Equipe: "I am much in demand but I am also thinking a lot of Euro 2000. The approaches [from Arsenal] exist as they do with other clubs. But once more what matters is Euro 2000. I do not want to burn my bridges and it seems to me that to go abroad now would be to do so."

Pires was a member of Aime Jacquet's World Cup winning squad, although his appearances were fleeting. Under Jacquet's successor Roger Lemerre, Pires is yet to make a first-team place his own.

Arsenal's French manager, Arsene Wenger, already has his compatriots Emmanuel Petit, Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry and Gilles Grimandi at Highbury. Wenger may be looking to improve his squad, particularly with Nwankwo Kanu likely to be missing for a month in the New Year to take part in the African Nations' Cup.

At least the Arsenal squad is nearly back to full strength with the return of Vieira after his seven-match ban. And although there were seven bookings in their victory over Leeds United at Highbury on Tuesday, the midfielder Vieira stayed out of trouble.

Even so, he has vowed not to change his combatitive style despite his bad disciplinary record. "I don't want to change my football as that is my quality, that's the best thing in my game, so I'm going to keep it. I just tried to enjoy my first game back and I did not think about any bookings," he said. "It was an important game for us and Leeds as we were eight points behind them and we came out under pressure. But that's the best type of game."

As for the impending game against Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough, the venue where Vieira figured in an altercation with Paolo Di Canio that ended with the Italian pushing over the referee Paul Alcock, he added: "What happened last year will not make a difference to me, I'm not going to think about that. I'm just going to go there and try to give my best for the team, like I did against Leeds.

"I've seen what happened on the television but I'm never going to think or talk about that as that is the past and it has already happened. I don't like to think about the past, I think about the future."

Arsenal not only lost last season's game at Hillsborough but were also defeated there two years ago, and the Gunners can ill afford to suffer a third consecutive setback. At least Martin Keown should be back for the game after not being risked against Leeds, while Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn will also come back into contention after being rested.

Tony Adams was outstanding at the heart of the Gunners' defence against Leeds, but it was the return of Vieira alongside Emmanuel Petit was also a vital factor in the win.

Vieira is now determined to make an impact on his return from suspension - and to make up for lost time.