Thursday, April 20, 2006

Arsenal Dominates Villareal

I am a fan of Villareal; but, I am a Gooner, through and through. Arsenal invokes within me a passion I have never known as a consumer of professional sports entertainment.

Villareal is a Spanish powerhouse. They lack the seemingly endless supply of cash that maintain Barcelona and Real Madrid, and still they are extremely competitive in La Liga, the Spanish league.

Arsenal is in a rebuilding phase that sees them out of the top fur in the English Premier League, and facing the proposition of being excluded from next year's Champions League.

Yesterday brought the first leg of the UEFA Champions League Semifinal match between my beloved Arsenal and the Diego Forlan/Juan Román Riquelme led Villareal at Highbury, in North London.

Arsenal dominated the match front to end. Villareal struggled to keep apace and their scoresheet is littered not with goals, but yellow cards.

With Arsenal's Jose Antonio Reyes unavailable due toaccumulatedd bookings, Thierry Henry played alone on the left up front, with Freddie Ljungberg playing as an attacking midfielder in the center. Henry had a shot on goal in the eleventh minute, but the match remained scoreless until the 41st minute when Cote d'Ivorie defender Kolo Toure scored with a brilliant shot.

The second half brought no further score, but the frustration of Villareal showed as three cautions were issued to the Spanish side.

Arsenal skipper, Arsene Wenger was philosophical, critical and generous in his post-match interview as he spoke about the Gunners' 2005-2006 campaign:
"We want to keep a clean sheet in the second leg, and we have proved we can do that, but it is not enough to just go there and defend. We want to play our game and score goals.

"We have got Spurs on Saturday and then the second leg of the Champions League semi-final - so the next six days will define our season - but we are confident we can do it."

The Frenchman also spoke of his disappointment at Villarreal's theatrical antics.

"They were very tricky in their attempts to break our attacks down," he said.

"I remember Alessio Tacchinardi going down at one point and he looked up to see if his side were on the attack. When he saw that they weren't he went back down.

"Tactically, they are very astute, very mature."

Wenger's final statement about Villareal is quite true. They are a team to be reckoned-with, and if their presence in the semi-finals of the world's most prestigious club championship, I recommend you watch them over the next couple of seasons as their veterans become more wily and their youngsters begin to mature.

I suspect that the newly re-crafted Arsenal and the rising Villareal might see a lot of each other in the coming half-decade.

All of that said, I look forward to next week's second leg of this sem-final round, and Arsenal's final push to crack the top founr of the Premier League.

Read more at UEFA and BBC:

Go Gunners!

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Thierry Henry and Dennis Berkamp

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