Champions League quarter-final second leg (first leg 1-1)
Arsene Wenger believes “a strong mentality, belief and determination” will be important tonight as Arsenal attempt to overcome Villarreal.
The English side hold the upper hand in the quarter-final tie having recovered from Marcos Senna’s stunning early strike to leave El Madrigal with a 1-1 draw in last week’s first leg.
“We’ve put ourselves in a good position to qualify and now we want to take advantage of that, but the advantage is not so big that we can afford to lose concentration,” said Wenger,.
Arsenal have lost Manuel Almunia (ankle), Gael Clichy (back) and William Gallas (knee) to injuries suffered in the first leg, with the latter’s likely deputy Johan Djourou also ruled out having damaged a knee in Saturday’s 4-1 win at Wigan Athletic. Mikaël Silvestre will come into central defence with Lukasz Fabianski in goal and 19-year-old Kieran Gibbs making his first Champions League start at left-back.
“Injuries are an opportunity for a team to show it has resources and a strong mentality,” said Wenger. “We’ve proved that recently. Belief and determination is very important and we can take encouragement from our team spirit. These boys are winners. The hunger and focus they have shown has been fantastic but there is still a lot more to come.”
Their weekend win stretched Arsenal’s unbeaten Premier League run to 18 matches and, having not conceded a home goal in Europe this season and having not lost at their own stadium in 23 matches over five years, the omens look promising for Arsenal.
However, Wenger is taking nothing for granted.
“It will be a fierce contest; Villarreal have to score so it will be interesting,” he said. “Our approach in home games is to win; it’s as simple as that. We will be organised and disciplined but when we have the ball we want to score.”
The visitors are also without key players having lost influential midfielder Senna to a hamstring injury picked up in Saturday’s 2-0 home Liga defeat by Malaga, with Santi Cazorla having broken his right leg the previous weekend.
Yet coach Manuel Pellegrini is as optimistic as Wenger, saying: “Senna is obviously a very, very important player for us, as is Santi. However, Arsenal have injuries too and we both have big squads, so whoever comes in will do well.”
Villarreal have been beaten just once in four visits to England, a 1-0 defeat at Arsenal three years ago, although Pellegrini is keen to put that disappointment behind him.
“It would be nice to beat Arsenal after they got the better of us last time, but not because of that – rather to get to the semi-finals,” he explained. “We want to play our own game and control the match. There’s not a lot between the teams; we played well at El Madrigal and should have won so hopefully we will do that here.”