Champions League Quarter Final, Second Leg Preview – Arsenal vs Villarreal

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We meet again

Just as with the 2006 semi final between these clubs, both sides still had all to play for after a tight first leg. Last time out Arsenal took a 1-0 lead to El Madrigal and had Jens Lehmann to thank for a last minute penalty save from Juan Riquelme (just look at the fear in his eyes below) which put Arsenal through to the final by that solitary first leg goal. Three years on, things are are still close even if the teams are rather different. The first leg finished 1-1 but Villarreal will not be overawed by trying to get a result at the Emirates. 

 

A week ago

The first leg was the proverbial game of two halves, with Villarreal dominating Arsenal in the first half before the Gunners gradually took control in the second. Two equally brilliant but quite contrasting goals were scored; a thirty yard rocket into the top corner by Marcos Senna was answered in style by Adebayor in the second half, who chested a long ball in the area before expertly volleying a scissor kick into the corner. Sadly for the neutrals Senna is apparently injured and will miss the match (I’m still not convinced it isn’t Spanish mind games however) while the Gunners have their own worries with Gallas and Djourou being out for weeks, leaving Toure and Silvestre the pussycat as the only fit centre backs. 

As mentioned both teams have had massive player turnover since meeting three years ago. If we take a look at the second leg lineups from that 2006 semi final we can see that only Senna, Venta and striker Franco remain from that Villarreal starting XI. Arsenal meanwhile, only have Toure, Eboue, Fabregas and sub Clichy still on the books at the Emirates. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the second leg is the return of the bald defensive legend Pascal ‘turns like an oil tanker’ Cygan to play against Arsenal for the first time since leaving. Oh and some guy called Robert Pires too.

 

Super, super Bob

Yes, I was jesting slightly earlier, this match is all about the mercurial Frenchman’s first return to Arsenal since leaving them in the summer of 2006. Following all the buildup in the first leg he ended up being on the bench before coming on. This may well be the story this evening as well but I imagine at some point he will be on the pitch.The reception for him when he does come on should be something very special. Should Cygan somehow make the bench and subsequently the pitch, I’m sure he’ll be well received too. He was a legend in his own special way too… Going back to Pires, he spent six glorious seasons at Highbury in which he won two titles, two FA Cups and a Footballer of the Year award. He pretty much single-handedly led Arsenal to the title in 2004 and scored 84 goals in 284 games. One of the best left wingers Arsenal ever had, he was for a while one of the best players in Europe. His Gunners career came to a slightly subdued end after he was the one to make way for Almunia in the Champions League final when Lehmann got sent off. It proved to be his last game for the club and also meant he was never afforded a proper goodbye. That will change tonight. Besides, this bit is a basically an excuse to post this video.

 

Tonight’s game

I think the match will be quite tight again but Villarreal will certainly miss Senna and Cazorla in the middle of the pitch. I imagine they won’t control possession as much as they did in the first leg but they’ll still be a threat through neat play and patience. They’re capable of getting the away goal they need to make things interesting but at home the Gunners should have a bit too much firepower to not score themselves. Walcott’s pace will once again be important down the right hand side, while Fabregas should have a bit more freedom to operate in the middle in the absence of Villarreal’s top men. The key question lies over who Wenger will pick at left back, after Kieran Gibbs had a somewhat rocky game on Saturday. It has been suggested that Sagna could fill in there while Eboue plays right back, but I reckon Wenger will keep faith with the youngster and offer a bit more defensive protection by picking Denilson and Song in midfield. Though a goalless draw is good enough, Arsenal have to be positive and go for goals. I think it may take till the second half to break Villarreal down but as long as Silvestre and Gibbs aren’t too threatened on the left of defence, superior options going forward should see Wenger’s men go through. 

 

T.

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