Arsenal reach UEFA Champions League final

Lehmann saved a last-minute penalty to secure the draw against Villarreal. It will meet Barcelona or AC Milan in the final.

india Updated: Apr 26, 2006 13:09 IST

Arsenal keeper Jens Lehmann saved a last-minute penalty to earn the London side a place in their first Champions League final after a 0-0 draw against a dominant Villarreal on Tuesday.

The Germany keeper guessed right and dived to his left to block Juan Roman Riquelme's spot kick after Jose Mari had gone down in the area two minutes from time.

Arsenal went through 1-0 on aggregate and will meet Barcelona or AC Milan, who play their semi-final second leg on Wednesday, in the final in Paris on May 17.

Villarreal made all the running in a ragged match but wasted their chances in front of goal.

Arsenal, lacking their usual composure and flair, had to work hard to keep the Spanish side at bay with Mexico striker Guillermo Franco and Uruguay's Diego Forlan always dangerous.

It was their 10th clean sheet in succession in the competition, a record in all European cup football. Lehmann, too, broke a goalkeeping record for the most minutes in European football without conceding, clocking 12 hours 25 minutes.

The Madrigal was a sea of yellow with the 23,000 fans -- half the town's population -- packing the stadium for the biggest game of Villarreal's first Champions League season.

New-look Defence

Arsenal were fielding a new-look back four with Sol Campbell returning to the centre of defence in place of the injured Philippe Senderos. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was forced to reshuffle his defence once more when Mathieu Flamini left the pitch with a hamstring injury in the ninth minute.

Gael Clichy replaced the Swiss left back and Villarreal were quick to take advantage of the uncertainty in the Arsenal defence.

With Argentine playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme pulling the strings in midfield, Villarreal gradually stepped up the pressure and Arsenal keeper Jens Lehmann had to react quickly to save a low drive from Sorin after an intricate passing move on the left.

Lehmann came to the rescue again just before the break when he produced a fine reflex save to keep out a header from Franco after Venta had driven the ball into the area.

Arsenal struggled to get out of their own half during the first period and with Thierry Henry ploughing a lonely furrow up front, Villarreal keeper Barbosa was never pressed into action.

The Londoners had even more problems holding Villarreal after the break.

Franco shaved a post with a bullet header after Venta had whipped in a fine cross soon after the restart and missed the target once again minutes later after Marcos Senna had clipped the ball into the area.

The Mexico striker set up Forlan with the best chance of the match midway through the half but the Uruguayan lashed the ball over the bar as Lehmann narrowed the angle quickly.

The German became the hero of the night when he kept his head after Villarreal were awarded their controversial late penalty and stopped Riquelme's spot kick.

"Today was about desire and commitment, you didn't see much of me up front but we worked hard," Arsenal captain Thierry Henry told ITV.

"But Lens was there, magnificent, he had an amazing game, not only the save."

The keeper, recently confirmed as Germany's number one for the World Cup, said: " We all deserved it, we fought very hard. It seemed as we had a grip, then this penalty, which wasn't a penalty."

Wenger said his side were a bit lucky on the night though it was a great achievement.

"We didn't manage to play tonight and I don't really know why," he said.

"We never came into our fluent game but you need a bit of luck and resilience and we had both tonight and I'm very proud of the character in that young team and of the more experienced players."

First Published: Apr 26, 2006 09:59 IST