It is my personal opinion that the back five of Manuel Almunia, Bacary Sagna, Johan Djourou, William Gallas and Gael Clichy is the best that the current Arsenal squad possesses. That none of those five played against Villarreal and we still managed a 3-0 victory at home and subsequent qualification to the semi-finals of the Champions League for only the second time in our history is nothing short of remarkable.
Three-to-nothing wins at this level generally indicate quality performances across the team and that is exactly what Arsenal produced last night. Theo Walcott, Emmanuel Adebayor and Robin van Persie may have got the goals but the trio were ably supported by Cesc Fabregas and Alex Song in the middle and Samir Nasri on the left. Down back a severely under-strength defence featuring Emmanuel Eboue, Mikael Silvestre and Kieran Gibbs and lead by Kolo Toure never seriously looked like being breached.
Most Arsenal supporters would have been hoping for a positive start and that’s exactly what we got when Walcott produced a Carlos Vela-like finish in the 10th minute to open the scoring. Just quite where he got the confidence to finish with such a flourish we’ll never know but his clipped effort gave the team the reward they deserved after taking the game to Villarreal in the opening period of the half.
The goal visibly relaxed the side and we played the ball around beautifully for most of the first half. Song was having a storming game in the middle, allowing Fabregas to wreak havoc with his passing while Adebayor’s strength and pace was causing the Villarreal defence all sorts of problems. Meanwhile down back, Silvestre and Toure were working well and Eboue was forming a nice little partnership on the right with Walcott, our best player by a country mile in the opening half.
We perhaps could have scored twice more before the break but Adebayor fluffed a couple of chances and Villarreal captain Gonzalo Rodriguez, who otherwise had a shocker of a night, cleared off the line. Meanwhile all Villarreal had to show for their efforts were a tame free-kick from Mati Fernandez and an over-the-bar header by Diego Godin before the referee blew half-time.
Villarreal had their best period of the game shortly after the break as they maintained a healthy share of possession and moved the ball around quite well. Their tactics seemed to be to try and catch Silvestre out by feeding through-balls to the speedy Guiseppe Rossi. However this was completely foiled as Lukasz Fabianski played a virtual sweeper role to race out and intercept these passes on countless occasions. He might have had to make many saves last night, Fabianski, but his willingness to command his area created a huge hurdle for Villarreal to overcome.
Just as Villarreal were getting into the game we killed it off with a well-taken second goal as van Persie fed Adebayor and he fired home from the left with the outside of his boot. A typical Arsenal goal in many ways, from van Persie’s dance on the edge of the area to Adebayor, Eboue, Song and Silvestre’s dance at the corner flag. Even Wenger got involved.
From that point on the game was ours as Villarreal’s challenge unravelled. Van Persie added a third from the penalty-spot shortly after, allowing us to bring on some fresh legs and coast for the final twenty minutes.
It’s something of a side note but it will be interesting to see just how much impact our ability to switch off mentally and physically has on our next game. Chelsea were forced to fight right to the end in their draw with Liverpool and our more comfortable victory might just give us a little more freshness come Saturday.
So 3-0 it ended, 4-1 on aggregate and we play Manchester United in the semi-finals. I’ll talk more about that contest at a later date but in the meantime I think it’s important to enjoy the success of the team and the club before we think about the next step. To be in the semi-final of the Champions League for only the second time in our history is a huge result and the young players and the manager should be given full credit for what they’ve achieved so far.
A quick word before I go on two of the players who I thought deserve special mention for last night’s win; Alex Song and Mikael Silvestre. It might have been the strikers and Walcott who stole the show going forward but Song and Silvestre were the main reasons we looked so solid defensively. Song showed again what a tiger in the midfield he is becoming while Silvestre made a number of crunching tackles and clever interceptions throughout the match. It was wonderful to watch and if the pair can keep it up then our chances of getting silverware will certainly improve.
And that’s all I want to say. Enjoy yourselves.
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