Arsenal v. Villarreal
The first of three gargantuan fixtures arrives on Arsenal's doorstep tomorrow. One game's at home, one's away, and the other is on a neutral site. These three fixtures are only the beginning of an exciting conclusion to the season for the Gunners. A quick look at the fixtures list on Arsenal.com should get the heartbeat racing. It's been a few years since we have had such an exhilarating end to a season. I just hope it doesn't end prematurely.
As he always does, Arsene redirected any praise from himself to his players. "These boys are winners," said Wenger ahead of tomorrow's Champions League Quarter-Final second leg with Villarreal.
"I believe in general this team has not got the credit it has deserved. The focus these players have shown since the beginning of the season has been fantastic. The hunger they have shown every single day in training is great, so that's why we have improved a lot. And there is still a lot more to come - at 21, 22 you can only go upwards.'
"Let's leave me out of all that," he replied when asked about the satisfaction he took from his Arsenal's change in fortunes.
After his wonder goal in the first leg, Adebayor has his eyes on the prizes. "If you want to be a big club, of course you have to win things, which is normal," said Adebayor.
"The pressure is there: all the fans, the newspapers, journalists. That is normal. I can understand that," he said. 'But for me as a footballer the most important thing is how I am going to help my team to win. I am here talking about the Final already, we have to pass through the Quarter-Final and Semi-Final first. We know Villarreal will be one of the toughest games I will have in my life and we will have to give 100 per cent. After that we will talk about other things."
Arsenal Team News:
As always, when Arsenal is fortunate enough to have players return from injury, we get cursed with new injuries. This week it is Diaby in and Djourou out. Johan joins Gallas, Clichy, Almunia,and Rosicky on the treatment table.
I expect to see Cesc drop deeper into the midfield from now on and we will play a 4-4-2. van Persie, Adebayor, and Nasri will return to the starting XI at the expense of Arshavin, Bendtner, and possibly Denilson. After having a brilliant season so far, Denilson might be getting a little tired. And right now, Alex Song is playing like a possessed man. I've been extremely impressed with him, and he is starting to finally fulfill my early season predictions.
The defense is where all of our problems lie. I'm pretty confident Gibbs and Silvestre will start, but who knows? Maybe Arsene will surprise us with Eboue and Song playing in their places.
Possible Starting XI: Fabianski, Sagna, Toure, Silvestre, Gibbs, Walcott, Song, Fabregas, Nasri, van Persie, Adebayor
Player to watch: Emmanuel Adebayor
The Togolese magician will be looking to score his 5th goal in his last 5 Champions League knockout matches. That's an amazing record considering the first goal that started that run was his first European goal for Arsenal. I bet he continues that record tomorrow.
Villarreal Team News:
The Yellow Submarine has many injury problems to worry about as well. Good news for Arsenal is that Marcos Senna is out of this tie. That will be a major hurdle for Villarreal to overcome. In the past two weeks they have lost two of their three best players, Senna and Cazorla.
If you had watched Villarreal's last two La Liga matches like I have, then you would surely predict Arsenal to roll over the Spaniards, but as we found out in Spain, on their day, Villarreal play some attractive football that can cause us problems, especially considering our defensive woes.
Player to watch: Giuseppe Rossi
With Senna and Cazorla out, Rossi is Villarreal's best remaining player. He is silky smooth on the ball, and he will give Silvestre problems if the Frenchman is not on his game. On the counterattack, we must keep track of this diminutive forward.
Wolfgang Stark, from Germany, will be the head official for this match. Most recently Stark made headlines in the controversial Italy v. Ireland game over the last international break. He has also been preselected as referee for the 2010 World Cup.
For the second time in 8 days, I am confident going into a European match against Villarreal. I will go with a much more conservative prediction than last time though. 2-1 to the Arsenal. Adebayor and Walcott scoring for Arsenal, and Villarreal taking advantage of our depleted defense.
18/4 (Sat)- Chelsea (N)- FA Cup
21/4 (Tue)- Liverpool (A)- Premier League
26/4 (Sun)- Middlesbrough (H)- Premier League