Pascal Cygan knows all about the power that Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Vieria can bring to the table when they combine their talents.
The former Gunners defender watched the star-studded trio destroy countless sides during his four-year stay at Arsenal, which ran from 2002 until 2006 before he left to join Villarreal.
And as he prepares to watch two of his old clubs lock horns in the Europa League semi-final on Thursday night, Cygan has been keeping a close eye on events back in north London and the news that his former team-mates have joined forces with Swedish billionaire Daniel Ek in his bid buy Arsenal from current owner Stan Kroenke.
And while Kroenke has so far remained adamant that he will not be selling, Cygan believes Arsenal would be better off if the influence of Henry, Bergkamp and Vieira can play a part in the American changing his mind.
“I am very happy for them,” the 46-year-old told Goal. “All three were great team-mates and friends. They know the club and its needs, and this is important
“I think it would be great news for the club and for the fans who could benefit from a new ambition.”
Off-field events have dominated the agenda at Arsenal in recent weeks, with the club’s ill-fated decision to join the European Super League leading to huge protests against the ownership of Kroenke which saw thousands of fans demonstrating outside the Emirates Stadium last Friday.
And now takeover talk is casting a shadow over Thursday night’s semi-final, with Ek stating on Wednesday that he had the funds in place to make Kroenke what he believed was a very serious offer.
With all that going on, Mikel Arteta has admitted it has been difficult to keep the focus on football and a tie against a Villarreal side that has forged a strong link with Arsenal in recent years, one that has already seen the teams face off twice in the latter stages of European competition.
Thursday night’s meeting will be the third time the sides have faced each other in a crucial knock-out tie since 2006, with Arsenal coming out on top on both previous occasions.
The Gunners won the 2006 Champions League semi-final in dramatic style thanks to Jens Lehmann’s injury-time penalty save, and then cruised to a far more comfortable victory at the quarter-final stage of the same competition three years later.
Thursday night’s first leg in Spain will be the first time the sides have met in the Europa League, however, and Cygan – who spent three seasons with the Yellow Submarine following his exit from Arsenal – is expecting an exceptionally tight contest between his former sides.
“The two teams are very close,” said the former centre-back. “They are close in terms of quality of player, quality of staff and in terms of results.
“I’m expecting a really good game between two teams who will try to attack. It’s 50/50.”
Cygan is one of several players who has experienced life at both Arsenal and Villarreal in recent years, reaffirming that strong link between the clubs that has developed since the turn of the century.
Santi Cazorla and Robert Pires both enjoyed exceptional stays with the Liga outfit, while on Thursday night former Gunners boss Unai Emery will be in charge of the Spanish side and Francis Coquelin will line up in central midfield.
It is a tie that contains plenty of narrative and for Emery, it is an opportunity to prove a lot of people wrong following his brief and unsuccessful stint in north London.
“Emery took over a very competitive team at a top European club [when he replaced Arsene Wenger], so he was subjected to the same sort of pressures as his predecessor,” said Cygan.
“He had to deal with the pressure of getting results, pressure from his bosses, the supporters and the press.
“Results were not what people hoped for, but he is still a very good coach who has won several titles and he is doing a good job at Villarreal.”
Cygan spent three seasons at Arsenal having arrived from Lille in 2002, winning a Premier League title as part of the Invincibles squad in 2004 and the FA Cup in 2005.
He now keeps a keen eye on his former club from back in France, and admits it is difficult to watch their current struggles, although he accepts it was always going to be difficult to stay at the top level in the years immediately after the departure of Wenger.
“All those who love or have loved the club are sad to see it in this situation,” he said. “Arsenal no longer play a leading role in the Premier League like we did during the Wenger era.
“But it was always predictable that it would be very complicated for his successors to reproduce the type of results he obtained over such a long period.
“I don’t think the club has lost its identity because it continues to produce and play young players. The new coach has just brought a new style of play.”
So has Cygan been impressed by what he’s seen from Arteta so far?
“For the moment, no,” he said. “Neither in the results or in the way we see things [on the pitch].
“But I know that it takes time to get into the heads of the players with a new approach and a new system.
“But this kind of club doesn’t always give you time to prove yourself. The results must be there immediately. So it all depends on the degree of patience of Arsenal’s leaders.”