Houllier return surprises Wenger
Arsenal boss Wenger has known his fellow Frenchman since the 1970s but thought his days in the dugout were over after he went back to his former role of technical director of the French Football Federation. Houllier had been out of management for more than three years when Aston Villa came calling in September, with the 63-year-old having decided he needed a break following a spell at Lyon. He also suffered a heart scare while Liverpool boss back in 2001, which needed emergency surgery, and spent five months recovering while assistant Phil Thompson led the side. Wenger, who takes Arsenal to Villa Park in the Premier League on Saturday, said of Houllier's return: "I wasn't surprised that Aston Villa took him but I was surprised - because he was in a position as director of the French Football Federation - that he chose to leave his job and come again into a hotseat after what he has gone through." While he may have been taken aback by Houllier's Villa move, Wenger was not surprised to see his friend bring Robert Pires to the club last week. Pires had been training with former side Arsenal after being released by Villarreal in the summer and despite not re-signing the 37-year-old himself, Wenger was in no doubt he could still do a job in the Premier League. "I saw what he has been doing in training," he said. "He is the type of player who can help any team in the Premier League, just at that age it is important you use him well at the right moment, but I am not surprised that Gerard Houllier thought about him." Asked how he would greet Pires at Villa Park, Wenger joked: "Well, 'Happy to see you and be quiet today!"' It is deja vu on Saturday for Arsenal, who know victory in what is the lunchtime kick-off will send them top of the table for the first time this season. That was also the case precisely a week earlier when they quite incredibly blew a 2-0 half-time lead to lose the north London derby. That was followed by a surprise defeat in Tuesday's controversial Champions League game at Braga. Wenger said: "We had two big disappointments but I am confident we will not always lose games where the opponent has no chances and we dominate 90 per cent of the time. "It's important we keep in mind what we want to achieve, that we keep belief in what we do and we as always show great togetherness even after a disappointment like Tuesday night. I am confident we will." All of England's so-called 'big four' have suffered shock setbacks this season but Wenger insists Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool have not become complacent. "What is worse is that there is no complacency there - it's just that the games are difficult for everybody," said Wenger, who believes there is a snowball effect when a side such as Chelsea lose 3-0 at home to Sunderland. "The lower teams have lost fear because one result added to the other makes a difference. "Birmingham think, 'Look at what Sunderland have done - why should we not do it?' This leading by example certainly has an effect." He added: "When you go away in the Premier League, the only advantage you have now is that you do not need to warn your team that the opponent is quality because everywhere you go there is quality. "You know it is when you look at the bench of the teams where you go that there is top quality everywhere."