Date: 6th April 2009 at 7:20pm
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This is why I love football. The intense feeling of anticipation has had a firm grip over me since Saturday. I honestly don’t think it gets much better than spring European nights away from home. That’s why I wanted to draw a non-English team for this round. It’s not that I’m afraid of playing the other big four teams, but traveling the short distance to Stamford Bridge doesn’t have the same special intoxication as crossing the English Channel into continental Europe. For this reason is why I feel for Liverpool and Chelsea fans. Playing the same team over and over must make the games almost as boring to them as the matches are for the rest of us. If these nights get me this excited to watch them on my TV, then the feeling must be exponentially multiplied when you travel the continent following the Arsenal. I can’t wait for my chance; it can’t come soon enough.

Anyways, onto this match. Arsenal versus Villarreal, a repeat of the 06 semifinal. A lot has changed since we last met. Both coaches have completely changed and reorganized their squads. The tie winner, Kolo Toure, is the only Arsenal player left from three years ago, while I believe Marcus Senna is the only remaining yellow submarine, please correct me if I’m wrong. This makes all the talk of revenge meaningless. For the fans revenge is important, but for the Villarreal players it is nonexistent because this is two totally different teams.

The results over the weekend by both clubs also couldn’t be more different. Arsenal smashed Manchester City, while Villarreal was rocked by Almeria. In these late stages of the competition every team has talented players, but its the confidence and belief that sets teams apart. Arsenal have the advantage here. I think that will be crucial here. Considering the away goal rule, a team can effective put the tie beyond doubt, and I expect our boys to do that tomorrow.

Vital Quotes:

Thanks to the rags, Arsenal player’s futures are always under constant speculation. But Arsene has put a hold on all this till the end of the season. “My thinking is that we focus completely on short-term and not long-term because we have such important targets in front of us.

“We have to show maturity and get rid of all the talks that are not helping us to win the games.

“We play every three days and we cannot sit around with the players, we have to focus completely on the short-term.We can always talk to the agents and I believe when a player comes back from an away game you do not want a player sitting around the desk at 8am, you want him to recover and rest and prepare for the next game.”

“We have taken this approach because we have a tight schedule and we know that every game is decisive for us.”

The importance of this competition was reiterated by both Arsene and Ade this week when they spoke about last years Anfield exit. Wenger said: ‘We were [the better team over the two legs]’.

‘I feel that we were guilty of not being focused when we scored the second goal [in the second leg] and we paid for that.’

Our Togolese hit man was left with an empty heart. “I didn’t watch the Champions League last year [after we went out]. I switched off as I couldn’t bring myself to watch it.

“That means I will do everything and give everything to play in it and once you are in the Semi-Finals anything can happen.

‘We know it will be very difficult. We are expecting a hard game and a very good atmosphere in Villarreal. As a kid, I always dreamed of playing in a Champions League Quarter-Final and now I just want to enjoy it.”

Kolo Toure remembers the trip to Villarreal on the way to Paris. . He had this to say about the trek. “When we played them in 2006 they made us work hard,” Kolo told Arsenal TV Online.

“I was happy to score a goal in that first match but the second game was really difficult and in the end we were lucky that Jens saved the penalty. This time it is going to be really tight again. We have to concentrate and not think it is going to be easy.”

“The atmosphere there is unbelievable, you can feel the pressure from the fans because they are so close. However, we are used to that in the Premier League, which is going to help us a lot.”

Villarreal Team News:

Villarreal got a slap to the face in the midst of the beating by Almeria. Star winger Santi Cazorla broke his leg in an awkward challenge in the second half. For me he is their best player, and its going to be real hard to replace such a quality player in the matter of days. Pires will most likely move out wide to fill the hole.

Some better news for Villarreal is that Marcus Senna, who was originally a major doubt, has been included in the squad and is expected to take on the task of containing Cesc.

Player to watch: Marcus Senna

Here’s where the tie will be won and lost in my opinion. A pair of Euro 2008 champions will be the crucial match up in deciding who advances to the Semi-finals. Senna plays just in front of defense, but he is well known for moving up with the offense to offer his thunderous shot as attacking alternative. He will need to concentrate on the defensive side of his game to control Fabregas.

Arsenal Team News:

The injury news for Arsenal is a blessing in disguise for Wenger. On the road in Europe he prefers to play a 4-5-1, but if van Persie was passed fit then it would have been almost impossible to deny him and Adebayor starting spots up front. Fortunately van Persie just missed the cut, which is fine by me. I want him fully ready to go for Wigan. Samir Nasri and Theo Walcott have both been given the thumbs up for the match so expect to see those two lineup on the wings for Arsenal, with Song and Denilson combining to sure up the defense. Cesc will play in the hole behind Ade up front.

Eduardo, Diaby, and Rosicky are also out.

Expected Starting XI: Almunia, Sagna, Toure, Gallas, Clichy, Walcott, Song, Denilson, Nasri, Fabregas, Adebayor

Player to watch: Cesc Fabregas

Just as I though the Denilson-De Rossi matchup in the last round was oh so crucial, the Fabregas v. Senna battle will decide this tie. Even though it was clear Fabregas was not at his usual sharpness, he still ran the match like a magician playing in an attack minded position. After being out for so long, I somehow forgot how good Cesc was. Back in his homeland, I’m sure tomorrow his great awareness and ability will see Arsenal top Villarreal.

Match Facts & Stats

In the last five home matches against English opposition, Villarreal are unbeaten. And in fact they have never lost a home CL match in their brief European history.

Arsenal’s only two losses in the last 27 matches were on the road in the Champions League. (Porto and Roma)

Arsenal have used 24 players so far in the Champions League.

Villarreal substitutes have scored more goals than their starters in this year’s competition.

Diaby and van Persie are both one booking away from a suspension, but neither will play a part in this match.

Ariel Ibagaza, Marcos Senna, Angel, and Guillermo Franco are all on the verge of suspension.

Villarreal have two former Arsenal players, Robert Pires and Pascal Cygan.

Ref Watch:

Tom Henning Øvrebø, of Norway, will be the head official for this match. He was the referee for Arsenal’s first leg, round of 16 loss to PSV in Holland a couple of years back. He has also been preselected to be an official at the World Cup in South Africa.

Match Prediction:

Let me start off by saying that I have put 20 dollars US on Arsenal scoring at least 2 goals. I’m confident about this match. Unfortunately this season when I have been confident about an Arsenal game, the Gunners have fallen straight on their buttocks. But I push on and will keep the faith. Arsenal 3-0 Villarreal. Adebayor with another brace, and Walcott completing the task.

Next Fixtures:

11/4 (Sat)- Wigan (A)- Premier League

15/4 (Wed)- Villarreal (H)- Champions League

18/4 (Sat)- Chelsea (N)- FA Cup