By Randy Osae
Like their last European travel in Rome, Arsenal walked out of EL Madrigal slightly edging out shoulders tonight.
In what was perhaps a script of two halves, Arsenal erased an early reverse with a priceless and exceptional equalizer from Emmanuel Adeabyor which leveled and settled matters right in the favor of the Londoners.
This quarter-final is farther from being decided though – Villarreal proved an even match for Wenger’s men, and within eight days, either side will have reason to show up at the Emirates Stadium.
Villarreal’s ‘yellow submarines’ were swimming all over the Gunners right from first whistle. That was literally the event at the mouth of Arsenal’s goal in the opening minutes as Clichy and Almunia scrambled to prevent Rodriguez from poking home a lead for the home side.
However, Villarreal would not need to wait much longer to carefully land the ball into the back of the net.
Arsenal were giving too much respect to the imperious hosts and effectively Marcos Senna who was free to unleash a scorcher from 25-yards out on ten minutes. And Almunia was hapless.
First pluck went to Villarreal.
Even when chasing shadows, Arsenal were always irritated by the setback and so Walcott sprinted and fed Fabregas who teed up Nasri – free on the left – but the French youngster’s low effort was parried away. Gallas then headed on target but Diego Lopez met the ball.
With the contest now balancing, Wenger then faced yet another hindrance on the night. The latest was an in-pain Almunia who had suffered severe collisions with Villarreal’s attackers earlier on.
On came Fabianski who was alerted immediately but was outstanding in response. First, he dived to his left to tip away Senna’s low drive and then provided a magnificent near post block to deny Joan Capdevila.
Soon, it was turn for another Arsenal veteran to hobble off. Gallas suffered more in a tangle with Giuseppe Rossi and eventually had to be replaced by Djourou just before the break.
That was when Arsenal grew desperate with their attempts even so that Fabregas could hardly wait for the referee’s whistle to perfectly curl home a free-kick. The Spaniard was booked and when he fouled Capdevila after the restart, that first-half caution nearly appeared sillier.
Arsenal had resumed their desperation after the break, and Adebayor nearly made the most of Walcott’s finding from the right.
Their retained urgency would pay off on 66 minutes.
Saturday’s techniques repeated – Cesc installing the bullet and Emmanuel pulling the trigger. Again, Fabregas floated in a ball for Adebayor on the edge of the box.
The Togolese controlled with his chest and with little aim, decided to exhibit his acrobatics. Adebayor’s bicycle kick stunned Diego Lopez who watched the ball travel into the low corner of the net just like the silenced spectators behind him. That sent it all back to even-steven…or perhaps advantage Arsenal with an often decisive away goal registered.
They had turned the tide theatrically and Arsenal were in pursuit of storming El Madrigal now. A second goal would do.
Nasri made a decent try with a shot. Then the man whose void he has been filling at Arsenal emerged from the sidelines. Robert Pires was introduced 20 minutes from time and then Walcott – later replaced by Eboue – made his final effort by blasting over after being set up by Fabregas.
Arsenal dictated play till referee Tom Henning Ovrebo decided to pause the chapter in this Champions League quarter-final with the margin not against today’s visitors at all.