Arsenal 3 (Walcott 10, Adebayor 60, Van Persie pen 69) Villareal 0
(Champions League Quarter Final, 4-1 on agg)
What a fantastic performance. Yesterday I spoke about how I expected last night to end well, but what I meant was I expected us to progress after a cracking tie, not cruise through seemingly without much threat from a decent Villareal side.
But that is what happened. Wenger was true to his word, and very wise in the sense that he sent the side out to attack, to win the match, even though a scoreless draw would have been enough. Realistically, 0-0 was not going to happen, so a win was imperative. And the man who epitomised the positive attitude was Walcott, outstanding from the very first minute, giving poor Capdevila a night to forget at left back.
What was particularly pleasing about Theo’s display was his end product – so often he has surged into good positions, but his final ball has been found wanting. This time, he whipped in a couple of devilish crosses that could so easily have been assists. And the first goal was all about his newfound composure and calm in a pressure situation. Cesc had flicked Eboue’s pass into his path, and with the keeper rushing out, he delightfully lobbed him, Vela-style, and gave us the early impetus.
For the rest of the half, we didn’t look back, and Villareal were fortunate to only be one down at the break. Van Persie forced a good save from a free kick, their defence then making a horrible hash of clearing Adebayor’s follow up, eventually scrambling the ball off the line.
At 1-0, we were in charge, but the tie was far from over. And with the Spaniards improved in the early stages of the second half, it could’ve been tense. But truthfully, they created little, and the second goal killed the tie – Cesc won a header in midfield, Van Persie timed his pass perfectly, and Adebayor, for once onside, finished with aplomb. Up to that point he hadn’t been having the best of games, but he is increasingly clinical in those positions and his goals in both legs were crucial.
That knocked the stuffing out of Villareal, and even Pires’ clever passing couldn’t save them. The third came when Walcott was felled in the area, although to be honest I thought the tackle was fair. It mattered little, apart from to Eguren, who managed to get himself a second yellow for prodding the referee in the chest after continual dissent. He won’t be needing to renew his passport anytime soon either, having first grabbed the referee by the arm following the red, and then taking a full three minutes to get off the field. UEFA don’t take kindly to either act, and are likely to extend his ban.
Van Persie smashed home the penalty, and 3-0 was a fair reflection of the match. It allowed Wenger to take the three goalscorers off ahead of Saturday’s FA Cup semi against Chelsea, a perfect scenario that surely even he hadn’t dared wish for before the game started.
Walcott will deservedly get the plaudits this morning, but the reality is that the whole team were outstanding, especially some of the less illustrious names. Sagna’s illness left us with a makeshift back five of Fabianski, Gibbs, Toure, Silvestre and Eboue, but they were excellent, Fabianski particularly alert to through balls.
In front of them, Alex Song was superb, and completely unrecognisable from the casual player of the past. Now, he has bite to his game, he wins the majority of his 50-50s, and his reading of danger is improving by the week. Much maligned in the past, he is comprehensively proving us wrong, and long may it continue.
It was a fantastic night, and there is more in store – United won in Porto so once again there are three Premiership sides in the semi finals (eat that, Platini), and we’ve got the holders. This run-in gets better and better.
Enjoy your day – Champions League semi finals don’t come around that often.