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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Arsenal walking to the final

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Highbury Park hosted it's last international game with an epic result in the greatest moment of Arsenal's history. Thierry Henry's team got a 1-0 win over Villarreal and is closer to the Champions League Final. Kolo Touré scored his first goal of the season, and the most important in his career.

However, Manuel Pellegrini, Villarreal's coach, departed this first leg with a grievance because the referee Konrad Plautz had denied his side the chance to equalise with a penalty spot in the 45th minute when he did not realise that Gilberto Silva had brought down José Mari from behind.

The first half showed Arsenal dominating the game, and creating many good chances to score, mainly with Robert Pires and Thierry Henry. But it was Kolo Touré the one that signed the winning goal.

It's important to say that the second half opened with Arsenal relishing their lead and reeling off commanding moves. Following a bout of passing on the right involving Hleb and Pires, Emmanuel Eboué was released. Indeed, his low cross went slightly behind Henry and the forward lifted his finish enough for Arzo to head clear.

The pressure, however, did not drop. Though keeper Lehmann had to dive to save Marcos Senna's long-range shot after 68 minutes, Villarreal were still struggling to cause alarm. If this match did not feel as if it was as great an occasion as, say, the match against Real Madrid, that was because of the lack of tension.

Manager Wenger, contemptuous of the idea that he should wrench his system out of shape by man-marking even a performer of Roman Riquelme's capabilities, was vindicated. Yes, there remained the usual anxieties of the closing stretch of a game to be negotiated but the Gunners never faltered. Another excellent performance next week will ensure their spot in the final.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Arsenal is ready to face Villarreal

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We can say that Thierry Henry's teammates will not feel they are upstarts if they get into the final, although Arsene Wenger's young side have already surpassed expectations by taking Arsenal further than they have been before.

In the other hand, Villarreal have also broken new ground with every round they have played in their debut Champions League season and are unbeaten in nine meetings with British sides.

The game pits Frenchman Wenger's pan-European connection against a South American-inspired Spanish club from a small coastal town which lies between Barcelona and Valencia.

Juan Roman Riquelme will try to prise open an Arsenal defence that has not conceded one goal in eight Champions League matches dating back to September.

"I find this a complicated tie, like the previous one against Inter Milan," the Argentine said referring to Villarreal's quarter-final win on away goals.

"Arsenal are a club with great players and (striker Thierry) Henry is the one who makes the difference," Riquelme admitted.

We must say that Riquelme's midfield tussle with Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas is in doubt with the Spanish teenager nursing a foot injury.

His absence would deal a severe blow to Arsenal's chances after he showed a maturity beyond his years in the wins over Real Madrid and Juventus in previous rounds.