Marcos Senna will be the key to Villarreal’s victory hopes, even more so after Santi Carzola’s injury and the naturalised Spaniard is finally receiving the credit he deserves.
The 50,000 strong population of Villarreal can fit in to the Emirates with room to spare and when the two clubs meet tonight, almost half will fill ‘El Mardigal’ lending to it’s intimate atmosphere.
And in 2002 when Marcos Senna signed for the club, the midfielder thought he would be just making up the numbers as an inhabitant, let alone one of it’s citizens. “Every kid who plays football grows up dreaming of playing for the national team and I was no different,” he said. “I always dreamed of playing for Brazil, but it wasn’t possible. I had no idea that I was going to play for Spain. Everything happened really quickly. I got here and I started to play. Villarreal began to grow and then the opportunity to get dual nationality came up, so I accepted.”
Yet seven years on the naturalised Brazilian has been the heart beat for both club and country’s success. His performances at the European Championships finally gave him the reputation he deserves even if it was a more withdrawn role than he is used to but his presence and intelligence allowed him to excel in the position, most notably keeping out Arsenal’s cup tied Russian in the semi-finals.
However it has not always been a smooth ride for Senna and in 2004 was banned for 60 days for testing positive for two banned substances. Like most Brazilians footballers he lived through poverty while he had been on the periphery of several clubs before he finally got his big break. “In Brazil, kids normally start playing football in the street. I didn’t have shoes, I played barefooted and that’s how it all started,” he explained.”At the age of 12 I went to a club called Sao Paulo and I was there for three years. Then I went to Rio Branco and that’s where my professional career really took off.”
He helped Corinthians win the 1999 league title in Brazil but only played a handful of games and the next season he was shipped out to Juventude before becoming a key part of Sao Catenao’s surprising Copa de Libetores final appearance where he found out the interest from Villarreal.
The first year was mostly spent fighting a relegation battle where the club finished 15th however two years later the small club finished third and have challenged for the top four ever since. “When I arrived we were fighting to avoid relegation but the whole mentality has changed. Now Villarreal’s objective is to win things and to be near the top of the table, fighting for a European place. We’re making history now and hopefully that can continue,” concluded the midfielder.
Marcos Senna has everything; strong, fast, great technique and vision, and is the one who can intiate and stop attacks. He may have been 26 and only played a handful of matches when he signed for Villarreal but he like the club ahve improved massively since then. His side were defeated by Arsenal in 2006 but Senna insists the current side is better than the beaten semi-finalists.”Back then we had a great starting XI but we didn’t have the depth,” he says. “We’ve got Cani, Matías Fernández, Ariel Ibagaza, and Rossi, and Santi Cazorla is older. We had Diego and Román and little else; now we have much more.”
Manager Manuel Pellegrini has his side well equipped to match the English clubs defensively. Four goalless draws with Manchester United and one with Arsenal means Villarreal have reason to be optimistic of the outcome. They will defend deep as a compact block, looking to deny Arsenal space behind. They were fairly confident in being able to shut out Manchester United because United lacked the presence of someone like Adebayor to expose their seemingly soft centre. And with Walcott passed fit there is likely to be a highly interesting battle with left back Capdevilla. Carzola is a real big miss who’s creativity and dribbling will sorely be missed and arguably lack another like him, filled with a number of wiry and clever players.
The Gunners are likely to play a similar system as against Man City and with Van Persie misses out, Bendtner is most probable to start wide left. Wenger will be looking for the two wide forwards to come inside when Fabregas picks up the ball in between the channel between defence and attack and the movement of players will be key, something Villarreal may find difficult to deal with.
Villarreal (4-4-1-1):Diego López – Venta, Gonzalo Rodriguez, Fuentes, Capdevilla – Nihat, Senna (c), Eguren, Pires – Rossi – Llorente
Subs from:Viera, Ángel, Godin, Cygan, Cani, Ibagaza, Mati Fernández, Guille Franco.
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Almunia – Sagna, Gallas, Toure, Clichy – Song Denilson – Walcott, Fabregas (c), Bendtner – Adebayor.
Subs from:Fabianski, Djourou, Gibbs, Ramsey, Vela, Eboue, Silvestre, Nasri.