Arsène Wenger has hinted that he may keep Robert Pires by bending Arsenal's previously rigid rule of only offering one-year contract extensions to players who are in their 30s.
It had been expected that the Arsenal manager would not agree to the midfielder's demands - he wants the security of a two-year deal - and was prepared to let him go at the season's end.
The departure of Pires, who is 33 next month, was discussed last summer. Interest was shown by Juventus - during negotiations to sign Patrick Vieira - and more strongly by Galatasaray. Although the French international does not want to move to Turkey he would be interested in a transfer to Italy, France or, preferably, Spain if terms are not agreed with Arsenal.
The player's wage demands will be crucial. Pires is one of Arsenal's highest earners but is unlikely to be offered the same terms as he is currently on, especially if he is given a longer deal.
But Wenger knows that with Dennis Bergkamp retiring and, more crucially, both Thierry Henry and Ashley Cole likely to depart, his squad will be lacking in experience. Wenger is looking to remedy that and has confirmed the possibility of a short-term move for Olivier Dacourt. He is also aware that Bolton Wanderers' 30-year-old goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen will be up for sale if he continues to stall on a new contract. His present deal ends in 2007 and Bolton may listen to offers in January.
Although Pires has become increasingly peripheral this season, Wenger confirmed he would hold talks in the new year. Asked if the club would be sticking to its policy regarding the over-30s, Wenger said: "Up to now, yes, but you can always have exceptions," before adding, "Robert Pires is an important player and has done tremendously well for us and we will try to have a good chat."
Pires, who joined Arsenal in 2000 for £6m from Marseilles, is entitled to talk to other clubs in January because his current deal expires next summer. However, Wenger added: "He has been in and out but you expect that during this period and at that age. Sometimes as well you need a breather but we will let you know what comes out with Robert. Or he will let you know - even better."
Pires played the last 15 minutes of the vital 1-0 victory at Charlton Athletic, only the club's second away win this season, which also arrested Arsenal's run of three Premiership defeats, the worst under Wenger. Afterwards Freddie Ljungberg admitted the team's "standards" have slipped of late, adding "there was a lot of pressure to go away again after this season's results away from home. So it was a massive win."
Ljungberg said the players could "see the belief" returning, especially as they created "so many chances" against a Charlton side which has now lost eight matches in nine and which the Swede said resorted to "long balls" to try to upset the Arsenal defenders.
Arsenal's captain, Thierry Henry, praised goalscorer Jose Antonio Reyes, describing the 22-year-old Spaniard's contribution as "magnificent". "I want to talk about him especially because we need him to do this kind of performance for us," Henry said.
The Arsenal captain also denied he had agreed a deal to move to Barcelona in the summer and dismissed speculation over the extent of his injured Achilles. "At the moment there's nothing ongoing," he said. "We have to concentrate on Europe before looking beyond that.
"I have been playing for the past two years with some problems on my Achilles," he added and said that he would be fit for tonight's home match against Portsmouth, for which Bergkamp is also available although Robin van Persie remains injured.
Wenger said he expected Portsmouth to provide a "physical battle" and try to catch his side "on the break". He said that was what any team in the relegation places "will basically instinctively do" although the visitors will be badly weakened by injuries. The biggest concern is the captain, Dejan Stefanovic.
But that is not all that is exercising the Portsmouth manager, Harry Redknapp. After the draw with his former club West Ham, Redknapp renewed his attack on the squad he has inherited at Fratton Park, claiming he had three players - including £1.6m Colombian midfielder John Viafara - who did not understand any English and could not be given instructions. Redknapp intends to bring in "four or five" new players during the transfer window with as many leaving.Reuse content