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Friday, 20 March 2009

Villarreal v Arsenal- The History


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Villarreal are relative newcomers to Europe's top table so there is a short history between these two clubs- but it's certainly a significant one.

In 2005/06 Villarreal battled their way through the Champions League qualifiers after their best ever finish in La Liga gave them their chance. 'The Yellow Submarine' took their opening magnificently as Everton found out to their cost.

The 2005/06 Villarreal were essentially a South American unit playing in Spain. Chilean coach Manuel Pellegrini recruited a host of players from Argentina, Uruguay and others, with money provided by the club President's ceramics fortune.

The lynchpin of the operation was playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme, a player who didn't fire at Barcelona. Diego Forlan was another South American misfit who thrived in the atmosphere at the Madrigal.

After getting past Everton, Villarreal quickly established themselves as dark horses for the tournament and progressed to the knockout rounds. Alongside them, Manchester United were having their worst season in Europe and ended in fourth place in Group D.

While United struggled Arsenal thrived and ended unbeaten in Group B. This Arsenal side were mainly the same group who delivered the 2003/04 unbeaten League campaign and though not at that peak, they could still deliver in Europe.

Villarreal took out Rangers and Inter Milan to reach the last four, both on away goals. This followed on from 4 draws in their 6 group games, often adhering to a cautious, controlled game plan. Arsenal were brilliant in defeating Real Madrid and Juventus.

When they were paired in the last four the first leg took place at Highbury. Arsenal eked out a 1-0 advantage thanks to Kolo Toure. That left the tie evenly balanced.

Villarreal didn't throw everything forward at home and played patiently, seeking a key opportunity. The tie turned on a missed penalty by Riquelme of all people and the Gunners got the 0-0 to reach the Final.

Ther has been much change at the Emirates in the past 3 years but Toure, Emanuel Eboue, Gael Clichy and Cesc Fabregas all appeared in the second leg. The real significance is in the Arsenal bench that night as the unused subs were Almunia, Diaby, Song, Van Persie and Djourou- all in with a chance of playing in 2009.

Villareal are less South American-dominated now and provide several players to the Spanish national squad- one is key midfielder Marcos Senna, a naturalised Brazilian who played in the 2006 semi.

There are two former Gunners in the Villarreal squad- defender Pascal Cygan and the massively popular Robert Pires, who can expect a warm welcome at the Emirates..

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Hugh Larkin

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