25 April 2006

Villareal-Arsenal Preview

Tense? Me?

Two and a half hours to go. Gunners fans around the world are nervous and jittery; it's the biggest night we've seen in quite some time. Arsenal head to Spain with a slim but workable lead; the 1-goal advantage makes a big difference but still there's work to be done. The second legs against Real Madrid and Juventus were both tense 0-0 affairs; if this one ends with the same scoreline, we'll all collapse in heaps at the end.

Villareal face a tough choice; they need to score, and yet an Arsenal goal would make for a nearly insurmountable lead. I would guess the home team will start a bit cautiously, feel out the Gunners, and try to ramp up the pressure midway through the first half. Arsenal will do their best to hold posession, remain patient, and attack on the counter. An early Arsenal goal would do much to reduce our nerves, thankyouverymuch.

Villareal will have a few advantages. They rested ten of their starters on the weekend, so the team will be rested. First-choice keeper Sebastian Viera returns to the lineup. As an Arsenal reject, he'll surely be motivated, though he's been a bit brittle through the season. Juan Manuel Pena also returns in defense. Alessio Tacchinardi is suspended.

Arsenal have a worry in defense as Phillip Senderos is unavailable; he had ligament damage in the Tottenham match. Sol Campbell will return in his place. This is obviously a risk, but Sol played well against Portsmouth before his broken nose. He has everything to prove and I expect him to be a rock in the middle tonight. Gael Clichy also returns, though he will likely sit on the bench. Arsenal will probably play the following lineup:
Eboue - Toure - Campbell - Flamini
Hleb - Gilberto - Ljungberg - Fabregas - Reyes
It's a lineup that can win this match. My prediction? Jose Antonio gets a goal on the counter around 25', and the match finishes a frantic but solid 0-1 to the Arsenal. That first goal is crucial; if Villareal score first, expect to hear a global 'sproing' as overstrained nerves snap on Gunners fans worldwide. But I have faith that we'll see the best out of the boys tonight. COME ON YOU GUNNERS!

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