Semi-final: first leg
Highbury hosts its final European game on Wednesday night and Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger is demanding a rousing send-off to the ld ground as Villarreal visit for the first leg of their Champions League semi-final.
The English side are leaving their home since 1913 in the summer for a new stadium at nearby Ashburton Grove and Wenger was keen to highlight the unique qualities of Highbury.
“It will certainly be an emotional occasion,” he said.
“Part of my soul will stay in this stadium when we leave, I’ve spent the biggest part of my sports career here and Highbury has a special atmosphere. That emotion can work in our favour against Villarreal.
“The English have a great sense of history and we want to be proud of the last European night at Highbury.”
Wenger is delighted to welcome back Cesc Fabregas (foot) and Fredrik Ljungberg (calf) from injury, although left-backs Ashley Cole and Gael Clichy are still some way short of full fitness despite returning to training and Sol Campbell misses out with a broken nose.
“Villarreal are a bit like Arsenal; in January perhaps they didn’t expect to be here in April,” he said.
“They’re technically very good, mature tactically and have players that can make a difference. They’re less physical than Juve, they rely more on mobility.”
Arsenal have not conceded a UEFA Champions League goal since Matchday 2, a Champions League record, and they will need all that resilience against a team who have yet to taste defeat against English opposition in five outings.
The manager is especially wary of the threat posed by Villarreal’s significant South American contingent.
“They play a very South American way,” he added. “They play a slow-quick tempo and look to set the tempo before choosing the moment to strike.
“There’s lots of similarities between the teams and it’s up to us to set the pace. We play with pace and we want a quick tempo.”
Wenger is without Spanish international Jose Antonio Reyes through suspension, but compared to his opposite number Manuel Pellegrini, his selection dilemmas are relatively minor.
Already without suspended goalkeeper Sebastian Viera, the Villarreal coach lost first-choice centre-backs Gonzalo Rodriguez and Juan Manuel Pena during Friday’s Primera Division defeat at Barcelona. Quique Álvarez and César Arzo will come in.
“Gonzalo and Pena are very important players for us, but we have to overcome these obstacles,” Pellegrini said.
“Everything is giving me positive vibes,” added Pellegrini. “To be in the Champions League semi-finals, against a great club like Arsenal and at a famous stadium like Highbury, is a great feeling.”
“What matters is not whether you play slowly or quickly, but who is the better side,” he added.
“Arsenal are not just a good defence plus Henry, they are a great team who deserve to be here. But you don’t get to the semi-finals of this competition every day. We’ve enjoyed our first taste of the Champions League but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to go further.”
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