Pires: I chose Arsenal over Real Madrid

Former Arsenal midfielder -  and soon to be Aston Villa player - Robert Pires has admitted that he was always going to sign for the Gunners 10 years ago, despite interest from Real Madrid.

The 37-year-old made more than 200 appearances for Arsenal from 2000-2006, helping Arsene Wenger win two Premier League and three FA Cup titles before departing to Villarreal.

Speaking exclusively to FourFourTwo magazine, Pires reveals that both Benfica and Real Madrid - whose shirts he wore as a child - were keen on recruiting him. However, he was always going to sign for Arsenal to work under Wenger.

"I was lucky enough that both Benfica and Madrid wanted to sign me," he said. "Benfica was in ’96 or ’97, 
but I didn’t want to join them because I wanted to keep playing and improving at Metz. In 2000, Madrid wanted me. But Arsenal wanted me too and I chose London because of Wenger.

"I spoke to him lots of times, I knew what he wanted and I knew that I would play. Madrid is a great club, of course, but it’s a club with little stability. Everyone thought I was on my 
way to Madrid but I didn’t want that."

Pires became famous for the goatee beard he sported during his time with the Gunners. The Frenchman admitted that former Gunners' team-mate - and current Chelsea striker - Nicolas Anelka was behind it.

"It was Anelka. It was a joke between us before the European Championship final against Italy," he said. "We wanted to do something silly. I don’t remember what he had to do but I had to do that. I went back to Arsenal and they called me D’Artagnan and everyone loved it.

"I liked the name and there were four of us – [Sylvain] Wiltord, Titi [Thierry Henry], Patrick [Vieira] and I. Three plus one, 
so it was perfect for the English. There’s no secret to the beard – if you have a trimmer, it’s a piece of cake."

MORE FROM PIRES: I'm still haunted by Champions League final substitution