When the Quarterfinal draw for the Champions League was made some weeks back, Porto and Villareal were seen as the 'easy' teams, that everyone wanted to be paired against. Last night though, the two teams exposed the fallacy of those assertions.
It may be advantage Porto after a first leg 2-2 draw at Old Travesty, but the Incredible Hulk and co will certainly look at it as a missed opportunity, considering they poo-poo'ed all over their illustrious hosts in the first half, and United's first goal came gift-wrapped, signed, sealed, delivered and what-not.
Anyway, enough about United and their jammy Fergie-time goals.(hold on - didn't they actually concede in Fergie-time last night? haha indeed) The Arsenal were at Villareal with all sorts of sub-plots surrounding the game. As pretty much expected, we lined up the same as Saturdays' win over Man City, apart from Nasri replacing the cup tied Arshavin, which meant Adebayor playing as the lone striker, and Cesc playing the 'Steven Gerrard' role (only with better passing accuracy and less of the aimless long hoofs forward).
It was the hosts who started brighter, attacking straight from the off, and forcing two corners in quick succession within the opening minutes. One of those resulted in Clichy having to clear off the line after two Villareal players found themselves unmarked.
In the third minute Guiseppe Rossi chased a long ball down the left hand channel, out came Almunia who somehow managed to kick both the ball and the lumbering Manure reject. Legend! Unfortunately he ended up with a mighty whack to his ankle for his troubles, and that would force him off some 20 minutes later. By which time a bit of damage had been done.
It was on 10 minutes. Villareal played the ball around, outside the Arsenal penalty area before the ball was played to Marcos Senna, who must have been invisible to all the Arsenal players, I can't figure out, why no one was marking him, and why it took so long to close him down when he did get the ball. No complaints about the finish though, a powerful right footed shot that flew past Almunia, still rising as it thwunked into the back of the net. No less than Villareal deserved after their bright start.
Arsenal responded well though.....Theo managed to dispossess some bloke, and set Cesc free. He had time and space to take a left footed shot, but opted to pass to Nasri out wide, who did shoot with his left peg, but the shot lacked power and was easy for the Villareal keeper. Moments later Gallas forced a fine save from the keeper with a header but he was offside anyway.
Fabianski was called into action shortly after coming on, first parrying a powerful shot from Senna, and then saving the follow-up shot from Llorente brilliantly. Quite crucial.
More injury worry for the Gunners followed though. Rossi went on a mazy run, was tripped outside the area by Song, and fell straight onto Gallas’ right leg. Big Willy tried to manfully play on, but was eventually replaced by Djourou.
The half ended with Cesc getting a yellow card for passing a free kick into the net while the ref was getting friendly with the Villareal wall. Silly.
Half-time, and a chance to regroup, after a first 45 minutes to forget.
The Gunners made a bright start to the second half, but Villareal defended stoutly and chances were hard to come by. Cesc went in hard on Capedevilla who writhed around in agony. No foul given, Arsenal carried on, didn’t put the ball out of play, and when the ball eventually did go out, he miraculously recovered.
Cesc then became pantomime villain, having stuff pelted at him as he was taking a corner.
Then around 65 minutes. Nasri found himself free just outside the area, and rather take a quick shot like he should’ve done, he opted to set Theo free down the left. The pass was heavy and all Theo could do was roll a weak shot straight into the keepers arm. No matter. The Villareal defence were presumably watching the replay of that chance on the big screen, as the goalkeeper kicked the ball out, Arsenal won back possession too too easily, the ball fell to Cesc, who picked out Adebayor with a lovely dinked lofted pass. The big man controlled superbly with his chest, and scored with quite an exquisite overhead kick, which would have been hilarious, had it not been so crucial and wonderfully executed. A big two fingers up to those who claim that he only scores useless goals against Derby County.
After that Villareal lost their heads, and the chances flowed. Nasri bucked the trend by taking a quick shot that whistled just wide. Theo shot wildly over the bar when he should have done better. At the other end though, Senna produced another piledriver that flew narrowly over the bar, with Fabianski well beaten. Funnily enough, that shot just happened to whistle over the head of one of Senna’s teammates who was on the ground. Would’ve been hilarious if it had made full on contact.
And in the dying minutes, Arsenal tore away on a counter-attack, brilliant one touch passing setting Clichy free down the left, but he was closed down well. Shame.
The full time whistle went, and like Porto, the yellow submarine will regard this as a missed opportunity. Arsenal should be wary though. In 2004, we drew 1-1 away to Chelsea in the first leg of our quarterfinal, and we know what happened in the second leg. In our last tsix Champions League games, we've scored three goals and conceded four. Not to mention Villareal drew 1-1 at home to Panathinaikos in the 2nd round, before winning the away leg 2-1. The moral of last night, if there was one – There’s no easy games in this competition. Not at this stage anyway.