The Champions League returns tonight, and we’re off to Spain to meet Villareal, as we did three years ago in the semi final. That night, we were pretty awful, but fortunately they were as bad, and Lehmann saved Riquelme’s late penalty to send us to the final.
If we were timid that night, we shouldn’t be tonight. The side is fresh and firing, with captain and top striker back, and our opponents have Pascal Cygan in their defence.
In all seriousness, I was always a Cygan fan, even though he was, frankly, a bit rubbish. He always worked his socks off to try to make up for his lack of turning speed, but sadly it was too little, although Wenger did remarkably make his money back when selling him on. Hopefully our pacey forwards can give him another nightmare.
Elsewhere, of course, it is the first time we see Pires since he came off in the final three seasons ago. That year, he provided the iconic image of the Champions League run, when he superbly tackled Vieira against Juventus, setting up Cesc’s opening goal, but this time, he is the ex-Gunner we are looking to prove we are fine without. And it is only recently, with Nasri, Arshavin and Walcott available from the wings, that we can say with any honesty that we are.
Villareal took a bit of a pasting from Almeria at the weekend, and lost one of their best players, Cazorla, to a broken leg, but they are a dangerous side, and we shouldn’t take this tie for granted. We’re also missing a few players, notably Diaby, Eduardo and Van Persie, who I’m not sure would’ve started anyway, Wenger preferring a 4-5-1 formation away from home. Diaby, however, would surely have been in the eleven.
But I’m feeling strangely confident about tonight, and am putting my money on a 2-1 win. I have a sneaking suspicion it could be Theo’s night.
Enjoy the game.