The coaches of both Villarreal and Arsenal felt they had watched “a great game” after the clubs drew 1-1 in their Champions League quarter-final first leg in Spain.
Villarreal boss Manuel Pellegrini does not feel the Gunners have the advantage going into next Wednesday’s decider in London despite Emmanuel Adebayor cancelling out Marcos Senna’s opener, while Arsène Wenger paid tribute to the mental toughness of his young after they fought back despite losing two key players to injury in the first half.
“We’ve been involved in a great game, with an excellent first half from us and a more even second half,” said Pellegrini. “On the balance of play over the 90 minutes it’s an unfair result. We created four clear scoring opportunities during the first half alone, and Arsenal had just the one which they scored from.
“The tie is level, although theoretically they have an advantage as they’re playing at home next; to me this isn’t an advantage as it is the best team who will go through to the semi-finals.
“One of the key features of the first half was the pressure we exerted in their half of the field. When Cani went off at half-time and Mati Fernández came on we lost this pressure because they are different types of player. This allowed Arsenal to have more possession of the ball.
“I feel as confident that we’ll get through as I did after the first leg against Panathinaikos in the previous round [when Villarreal progressed after a 1-1 draw at home]. I don’t think we could have ended the tie tonight, but we should have won the game. Arsenal will know that it’s going to be difficult to eliminate us.”
Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger believes that Adebayor’s equaliser puts his side in with a great chance of reaching the last four.
“Both teams played well at a high tempo and in an offensive way,” aid Wenger. “Villarreal started stronger than us and the positions of Ariel Ibagaza and Cani, between our defence and midfield, caused us some problems initially. But in the second half, it was a great response and we took over. It puts us in a great position, but we want to qualify at home and to repeat the type of performance we had in the second half.
“This team has shown the whole season they are mentally very strong and when they have their backs to the wall, these young players always find an answer which is very interesting for a young team. I believe we have created momentum.
Wenger paid tribute to Adebayor who scored from an acrobatic overhead kick midway through the second half.
“It was a great goal, but it was a great game as well,” he stated. “After we had many dangerous situations where we could have scored a second goal.
Wenger rued the loss through injury of William Gallas and Manuel Almunia, both of whom are unlikely to figure in the next Wednesday’s second leg.
“With [William] Gallas, it looks quite serious and could be a medial knee ligament injury,” he added. “We will have to assess it. I am not a doctor, but the first signs do not look too good. Manuel [Almunia] is a recurrence of an ankle injury, which probably will be a couple of weeks.
“I hope that we will have Robin van Persie, Abou Diaby, and perhaps Eduardo da Silva available for the second leg. [Substitute goalkeeper Lukasz] Fabianski had a great game, I’m very happy with him. Despite coming on without a warm-up, he made two big saves. It’s important to have two good goalkeepers in your team, and I’m lucky to have that.”