Reyes finally settles in for the long haul of proving his worth

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The Independent Football

He is certainly in a radiant mood. Take his reaction when asked how Asier Del Horno, his fellow Spaniard, will settle in England and the Premiership following his £8 million transfer to Chelsea. "He may well take a year," says Reyes, reflecting on his own tribulations of the past months, before adding, with that smile, "but he's from Bilbao so he's maybe a bit more used to the weather and the cold, so it might be less than that."

The two players could be in direct conflict today at Stamford Bridge - as they were in the Community Shield - with Reyes restored to the Arsenal squad following the one-match ban that ruled him out of last week's season-opener against Newcastle. That followed his late dismissal against Manchester United in the FA Cup final (unlike Kevin Moran, who was sent off in the 1985 final, Reyes, only the second player to be red-carded, got a medal).

His red card was also ironic, as one of the themes of last season was the roughhouse treatment supposedly handed out to Reyes, especially from United's Gary Neville in that infamous match which ended Arsenal's 49-match unbeaten League run.

"Back in Spain, I also got hit quite a lot, so it's just part of the game," Reyes protests when asked about the challenges on him. But is it worse here? "Maybe a little bit, but it's not that much different," he shrugs. Reyes agrees it is probably a "compliment", an acknowledgement of the danger he poses. "Yes, definitely," he says. "But I still don't like it." And as for asking for protection from the Premiership referees... "They never whistle at all!" Reyes protests with a giggle. "Not for anyone."

Nevertheless, it is a style of football he feels he is adjusting to. His manager, Arsène Wenger, was at pains at the end of last season to insist that not only did Reyes have a future at the club, but that he was adapting well to the demands, having built up his body strength and become more battle-hardened.

Reyes has little doubt that Del Horno, too, will do well. "I think he will be a success," he says of the left-back from the Basque region. "He's strong, he's tall and he goes in hard."

The two were in the Spanish squad for their country's midweek friendly against Uruguay in Gijon. Despite - or perhaps because of - the problems Reyes faced adjusting to England, Del Horno sought him out during the summer to ask him what life in the Premiership was like. It was a sign that Reyes is settling that he did not discourage his 24-year-old countryman from coming.

"I've never thought about leaving this club," explains Reyes, who speaks in heavily accented Spanish and feels more comfortable using an interpreter. "It's true that when I first came to London I did find it hard, but I'm very proud to be at this club. Initially, I did miss Seville a lot, but I've been here for 18 months now so I do feel settled."

But it was a shock to the young Andalucian's system. "It wasn't a bad impression, it was worse than that!" he laughs, before recalling the day two Januarys ago when he flew into Heathrow Airport, after his tearful farewell from Seville, to join Arsenal for a record fee which could rise to £18m. "I had come over a few times before that," explains Reyes, who turns 22 in September, "but when I finally joined, I was stuck on the motorway for three hours in a queue and it was snowing - I wanted to go home again."

Unsurprisingly, and despite the fact that his immediate family also moved to England with him, Reyes struggled. "It's true that if you are unsettled then it does affect your game," he admits. There was also the loss of his grandfather to deal with, while, in February, at the height of his upset, a Spanish radio-show presenter rang him, masquerading as Real Madrid's sporting director, Emilio Butragueno. The player, whose departure from Spain had caused consternation, was recorded admitting that he would like to play for the club and complaining about Arsenal.

Madrid is still at the forefront of his mind now - but only when he is asked to assess Chelsea's chances for this season, and whether Arsenal can bridge the 12-point gap from last term.

"It's clear in football that you don't just win games by spending money," Reyes says. "Madrid spent a lot last season and they didn't win anything. The gap was quite large but this season we will narrow it by winning."

Madrid did beat Arsenal to their main summer transfer target - the Brazilian Julio Baptista, whom Wenger had earmarked to partly fill the gap left by Patrick Vieira's depart-ure. Reyes and Baptista were team-mates at Seville, but the former doesn't dwell on what might have been. "Every player decides where he wants to go, we can't do anything about that. I just wish him the best luck for the future," he says.

Last August was a wonderful month for Reyes who made an explosive start, scoring five goals and being named Premiership Player of the Month. He did not sustain his form as the weather cooled, but feels that he will not freeze - literally - this time round. "Thank the Lord, I do feel a lot more settled in and hopefully that will be shown on the pitch," he says.

He is keen to strengthen his partnership with Thierry Henry - "We haven't really pushed it yet," he says - even if Wenger may prefer to deploy him on the left at times, where he plays for Spain, in front of the attack-minded Del Horno. Neither player is a regular yet for his country, but they were in tandem when England were beaten in Madrid last November, with Del Horno scoring the winning goal.

It provides another dimension to today's meeting, not that it's a contest that needs any extra edge. "Especially with the amount of money that Chelsea have, it would be nice to beat them," Reyes says. "But we just want to beat every team.

"You've got to go in with a winning mentality. There's no point having any players on board who don't think they are going to win."

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