Arsenal must not let Villarreal settle if they are to leave themselves with the greatest chance of victory against the Spanish side while the returning Van Persie should have a big part to play in the outcome of the tie.
Without doubt, Arsenal already have the psychological advantage over Villarreal, not just because of the away goal but the injury to talisman Marcos Senna. The naturalised Spaniard keeps the Spanish side ticking in both his passing and reading of the play, winning back crucial possession in the middle of the park. “Marco is the master, said Robert Pires. “He is an important player in the game to lose especially his ability from set-pieces. They [Carzola and Senna] will both be missed because they dictate our play. ”
Senna along with his partner Eguren, effectively allowed the forward men to play with much freedom and were able to cover, especially when the full backs bombed forward. Arsenal must deny Villarreal the opportunity to pass the ball forward therefore must pressure as high up the field as possible to unsettle the defence. It worked to great effect against Roma and Wenger will want a repeat of that performance though with more conviction.
Robin Van Persie is likely to be recalled to the starting line-up alongside Emmanuel Adebayor and the Dutchman’s ability to link up play when dropping into the channel between midfield and attack will be crucial. An absurd claim has been going around recently that Van Persie slows down Arsenal’s play too much but this is the same slowness that created two goals against Newcastle and three against Hull to name a few, while dragging Arsenal through the mist of January. His shielding, balance and close control can drag defenders out of position and create space for others.
Fabregas can provide the assurance in front of the back four because of his positional play and ability to keep possession, a great form of defence as well as attack. The Gunners must keep concentration especially with the movement from the wide pair of Cani and Ibagaza, who will come in field and create space out wide for the full backs. It can be an area that Arsenal can exploit especially as Villarreal like to attack with much numbers. However the Gunners’ problem in recent games has been keeping the ball in the first half and although that may not be a problem at the Emirates, the players must be more supportive and closer to each other to allow greater accuracy in their passing and movement.
All the talk will be about how the makeshift back four fare, Silvestre will definitely start and Wenger will have the choice whether to play the Frenchman at left back or centre back. If the former, Song will move to the heart of the defence. The key will be for the full backs to play cautiously, as they have all season to minimise the risks.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Fabianski – Sagna, Toure, Silvestre, Gibbs – Walcott, Fabregas (c), Denilson, Nasri – Van Persie, Adebayor.
Subs from: Mannone, Song, Gibbs, Diaby,Vela, Eboue, Bendtner.
Villarreal (4-4-2): Lopez – Angel, Gonzalo, Godin, Capdevila – Cani, Bruno, Eguren, Ibagaza – Rossi, Llorente.
Subs from:Viera, Cygan, Venta, Fuentes, Nihat, Mati Fernández, Guille Franco.