Arsenal wary of wounded Villarreal
Arsenal tackle Villarreal in the Champions League quarter-finals on Tuesday in a rematch of the 2006 semi-final where the Spaniards suffered a narrow, heart-breaking defeat.sports Updated: Apr 06, 2009 08:52 IST
Arsenal tackle Villarreal in the Champions League quarter-finals on Tuesday in a rematch of the 2006 semi-final where the Spaniards suffered a narrow, heart-breaking defeat.
Villarreal have a score to settle with Arsene Wenger's men who defeated them 1-0 three seasons ago in a game which saw Arsenal goalkeeper Jens Lehmann save a last-minute penalty from Argentine playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme.
French midfielder Robert Pires was in the Arsenal side that day but now dons Villarreal colours and is relishing the chance to face his former club.
"It will be the first time I've played against them," said Pires, ahead of the first-leg tie at El Madrigal.
"We are teams with contrasting styles but also with top-quality players. It's not the best thing to be playing the return leg away from home but if we perform like we have in the past we can get through.
"If I'm lucky enough to score I know that I won't celebrate, simply as a gesture of respect to a club, and their fans, which have meant so much in my career."
Arsenal are on a hot streak with ther 2-0 win over Manchester City on Saturday meaning they are 17 games unbeaten in the league.
"There is a lightness in the team now which I enjoy and we are playing without the handbrake on," said Wenger.
"We are 17 games unbeaten and are not the same team that was playing in the autumn. However, I don't think you can say we are the favourites against Villarreal."
The timely return of Togo striker Emmanuel Adebayor and key Spanish midfielder Cesc Fabregas have boosted Arsenal ahead of the Villarreal clash.
The return of Fabregas, out since December with a knee injury, is a massive plus although he has not yet got match sharpness after three months on the sidelines.
In stark contrast, Villarreal were hit with a hammer blow this weekend when Spanish international midfielder Santi Cazorla was ruled out for the rest of the season with a broken leg sustained in Saturday's 3-0 defeat to Almeria.
Pires was also sent-off in that game.
Villarreal are out of the title race, lying fourth and a massive 24 points behind Barcelona.
The Champions League is their last shot at silverware this season.
Coach Manuel Pellegrini was in charge when Villarreal and Arsenal met in 2006 but has warned his players to not get too sidetracked by the idea of revenge.
"Progressing should be more than important than the spirit of revenge," explained Pellegrini.
"We know they play fast and different football but that doesn't make it better. We will have to wait and see if we can surpass them this time.
"That meeting was three years ago and now everything is different. We have different teams, different players and different times."
The Chilean manager has a point with Spain's Euro 2008 hero Marcos Senna and Javi Venta the only two survivors from that defeated 2006 Villarreal side.
Arsenal have changed a lot too with big stars such as Thierry Henry and Sol Campbell leaving, but the likes of Kolo Toure, Fabregas and Emmanuel Eboue remain.
This time Arsenal have the second leg at home but Villarreal are a tough nut to crack as holders Manchester United found out at the group stage when they were held to a 0-0 draw home and away.
Arsenal will want to do better and grab the all-important away goal for the return leg at the Emirates Stadium on April 15.
The winner of the tie will face either defending European champions Manchester United or Porto in the semi-finals.