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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 April 2006, 15:09 GMT 16:09 UK
Countdown to Arsenal v Villarreal
All the latest news and comments in the build-up to Arsenal's first-leg match at Highbury as they aim to reach the Champions League final for the first time.

Arsene Wenger is urging his team to enjoy their crucial Champions League tie against Villarreal.

With just a few hours to go until the first leg of their semi-final on Wednesday, he insisted no-one will be taking the Spanish side lightly.

"We want to just enjoy it, be up for it and love it because we have waited for so long to be there," the coach said.

The game also marks Arsenal's last European match at home before their move to Ashburton Grove.

They are a team that has technical tricks, tactical knowledge, yet can slow the game down and wait for a weak moment
Arsene Wenger on Villarreal
Meanwhile, Wenger has also picked out the playmaker Riquelme as the key man for the opposition.

"Riquelme is a kind of quarterback to call on when it is needed," added Wenger, whose side now having kept a record eight straight clean sheets in Europe.

"Diego Forlan is the runner and they have Juan Pablo Sorin too.

"It means they are a team that has technical tricks, tactical knowledge, yet can slow the game down and wait for a weak moment."

UPDATES FROM FANS AND OUR REPORTERS

1558: Emmanuel Essien, Nigeria, via email
"I wrote a song for the Gunners: 'Arsenal, ride through the forest storm where no one else can come to taste what's within your palm, and return with the grace and glory of a champion, European champion..Yet remain the same old same old Arsenal'."

1545: Phil Thomas, Cornwall, via email
"I'm sitting at work just waiting for that clock to hit five so I can get down the pub. I think the boys can do it - Arsenal vs Barcelona final anyone?"

1534: David Hunter, Ireland, via email
"Villarreal are certain to win. Arsenal's chances have been built up to much, and the pressure of getting to their first European cup final will be too much for the inexperienced youth players who have been an integral part of thier team thus far."

1511: Mo Karoo, London, via email
"For all that Arsenal has won through their illustrious history, the biggest prize of all have eluded us so far. All Arsenal fans want this and want this badly. We may have been under par in the Premiership this season but sometime you have sacrifice one thing to gain another."

1451: Harvey Phan, UK, via email
"Villarreal are very much the favourites playing against Arsenal. I think Barcelona have defied all the odds and are likely to win the tournament."

1447: Peter Sandre, United States, via email
"Fabregas being fit is huge for us. There's much more flow and energy with him in the starting 11."

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FACT:
Arsenal have gone 739 minutes in eight games without conceding a goal in Europe.

1424: Tim G, England, via email
"It would be a shame if this Arsenal side failed to reach their potential - to be Champions of Europe. A final against Barcelona, with Henry and Ronaldinho on the pitch, could be the greatest game ever."

1358: Paul , England, via email
"Villarreal missing some key defensive players will make all the difference as this will allow Henry to do his ever so beautiful thing. I can also see Arsenal's clean sheet record continuing too, at least until next week.

"Good luck from a Chelsea fan gagging for an English team to stick it to Barca."

1333: Paul Tavatgis, Australia, via email
"Can't believe we've got this far - 30 years of being an Arsenal fan and only two games to go."

1320: Simon Cutmore, Herfordshire, via email
"What a cracking game this is going to be. Villarreal will prove to be tough opponents, look out for Hector Font and Riquelme (most of you will know Riquelme obviously), I really hope Arsenal go all the way, they deserve it, been doing fantastic in the CL, and what a find Eboue is."

I think we will see Henry's commitment in abundance, and next week
Rachel, via email
1306: Shane, Ireland, via email
"Big it up to Arsenal and good on ya, but I foresee a flop, especially in the first leg. Arsenal have already got an eye on Paris and I don't believe even Wenger can distract them from that to concentrate solely on this match."


1255: Femi Atoyebi, Nigeria
"I like Wenger's gut feeling: 'Go out and enjoy the moment.' However, within is the truth that Arsenal's season depends on the Champions League. I have a feeling that Arsenal will turn on the hit more than before and keep the defence clean."

1246: jaafar, Dubai, via email
"Arsenal's night - Bergkamp comes in late, and produces his magic to make it a night to remember."

1244: Rachel, London, via email
"Thierry Henry says he is demonstrating his commitment to the club on the pitch. I think we will see that commitment in abundance, and next week, and in the final, and as he raises the Champions League trophy and declares his intention to lead Arsenal out at the Emirates stadium next season."

Villarreal have defied all the odds to get this far and therefore they have to be respected
Former Arsenal player David Platt
1231: heidi s, portugal, via email
"Judging by Tuesday nights' poor display, Villarreal may just turn out to be the hardest opposition of the competition. I know Arsenal have it in them to go all the way this time but we have to be on full-alert till the end."

1222: Mark Quilter, UK, via email
"Arsenal have done very well, hopefully they can do what Liverpool did last season and make British football proud."

1219: BBC Sport news
In the other semi-final, Barcelona's players remain cautious, despite their first-leg away win against AC Milan.

"I can't see the top of the Eiffel Tower yet," said captain Carles Puyol, while team-mate Samuel Eto'o added: "We still have a lot of work to do. Nothing is ever settled in football. 1217: Jonathan, England, via email
"Arsenal are in uncharted waters against Villarreal in the last European game at Highbury - can't wait! I shall be wearing my shirt with pride."

1205: Fengecy Onisoya, Nigeria, via email
"Arsenal has always been the team of my heart because of their free flowing football and tactical approach to games. Against Villarreal, its going to be crunchy and Riquelme can be dangerous but Henry can be lethal with Eboue running down the right, the night could be Arsenal's"

1148: Majange, Zimbabwe
"Am already looking forward to this big match as we go well beyond all could imagine we could go. Cesc is still the trump card and the young man will do wonders again."

1141: Bruce Smith, Australia
Been in Sydney two years but still a season ticket and bond holder. Will be there for last game at Highbury and just can't wait to change my ticket so the flight back comes out of Paris! May the last European game ever at Highbury be a cracker! My knees are starting to wobble.

Riquelme's very much an old fashioned type of player but the whole team is organised around him
Max Sykes, BBC Spanish Service journalist
1132: Rotimi, England
I have waited for this day for a long time. This will be Arsenal's greatest test this season. Composure, midfield fluidity, and fast pace is the key to winning. See you in Paris all Gunners.

1129: Muneeb G, Qatar
Villarreal are gonna gung ho. They have nothing to lose, and have been underdogs since day one of the competition.

Especially with three defensive players missing, they won't want to keep the ball in their own half. They beat their last two opponents on away goals, and I think they will try to do the same this game.

1110: Matthew Lewis, England
If we can beat Juventus, then I cannot see how Villarreal are going to beat us at Highbury or even next week. We will get to the final with Barcelona and hopefully we will come out with the trophy.

1055: Former Arsenal player David Platt on BBC Radio Five Live:
"Arsenal are very much the favourites playing against Villarreal. I think Villarreal have defied all the odds to get this far and therefore they have to be respected."

1050: BBC Sport
Arsenal could be contemplating a final against Barcelona after their 1-0 away first-leg win on Tuesday.

But ill AC Milan striker Filippo Inzaghi could return for Saturday's league match with Messina and be ready for next Wednesday's return leg at Camp Nou.

1038: Gordon Smith, Scotland
"As a Rangers fan who watched his side crash out to Villarreal after a heroic effort I just have to say that Arsenal should be fine against Villarreal but do not get complacent.

It's very special and a huge night, and I think Arsenal have a great chance
Former Arsenal goalkeeper Bob Wilson
"Riquelme always finds a pass usually a great one no matter what pressure he is under and Forlan seems to able to sense every single pass Riquelme makes into the area."

1026: Fran Parker, UK
"I think that without their first choice centre-backs Villarreal will struggle against the Arsenal attack. The next leg might be a different story."

1015: Weather update
It's generally cloudy with patches of rain in London, with bright spells at times. More rain and drizzle is predicted for later.

1009: Nick, England, via email
"I'm terrified and with 10 hours to go, it's not going to get any better. If Gilberto can hold Riquelme it's ours for the taking."

1004: Ruth, Australia
"Have been following the Gunners since the 71 Cup Final but have never felt so sick with nerves. Go Gunners!"

0959: Antony L, England
"Wrong - this won't be Highbury's European farewell. They're bound to parade the trophy around the old stadium once they've beaten Barcelona."

0955: Albies Dog, Australia, via email
"Went to the last games at Highbury against Chelsea and ManU... wish I hadn't. Now moved to Sydney and the boys are on fire, will have to get up at 4.30am to shout my support. Game on..."

0943: Julian Boiardi, UK
"The script was written in 1913. 93 years later, Arsenal have indeed risen to the challenge and will be playing in the semi-final of the Champions League in their last ever European game at Highbury.

"What a fitting way to bow out of such a magnificent stadium if we can beat Villarreal tonight."

0934: Bob Dillon, Scotland
"As long as Arsenal don't concede, they have a great chance in the final for the first time."

0931: Oscar Kilangi, Tanzania
"Arsenal should play very carefully especially in defending - technical play by Villarreal is a real danger and long balls from playmaker Riquelme to former Man United Diego Forlan may cost Gunners. Otherwise Arsenal need to dominate in midfield that make to create many real chances."

0925: Damola, UK
"After teaching Villarreal lessons in football tonight, Arsenal will do what Chelsea couldn't do to Barca in the finals"

0912: Philip Geller, England, via email
"This is the first time we've gone in as favourites and it makes me very nervous!"

0902: Evan Mubea, Kenya, via email
"Villarreal are a tricky prospect over the two legs but if the Gunners play like the did against Juve and Real Madrid, they should be alright - a five-man midfield and total concentration at the back should see them through."

0858: Max Sykes, BBC Spanish Service journalist on BBC Radio Five Live
"Riquelme is called the new Maradona. He's very much an old fashioned type of player but the whole team is organised around him. He's very skilful and he dictates the game."

0851: Waziri Mohammed Aminu, Nigeria, via email
"In the past, I have been Arsenal fan but, they always break my heart when it matter most.

"So far they have been very impressive in this year champions league & I just hope they wont break my heart again especially when I want to see them through to their first ever final. Wishing them all the best."

0846: Rowan, England, via email
"Wenger is a genius, he knows we can't win the Premiership so he's concentrated his resources on the Champions League. For those of you that think we won't win this: We haven't conceded a goal in 8 games, we are on fire, you cant stop the Gunners!"

0841: Dominic, England, via email
"I am a Man United fan but I am with Arsenal all the way with this one, they deserve to still be in the competition for the quality football they have been playing! Good luck."

0834: Robert, UK
"For the first time in the latter stages of the Champions League, Arsenal have been given the "favourites" tag. Whether they proceed or not to the final in Paris will depend largely on how well they deal with this added psychological pressure.

"With tense battle for fourth place reaching its defining moment on Saturday against Spurs, will Arsenal be able to keep their eye on the prize? The rewards are great, but failure, on either front is unthinkable."

0832: Vignes, Malaysia, via email"Tricky will be Villarreal. If Arsenal can keep their feet firmly on the ground and have some respect for their opponents they will be on their way to the finals. Discipline will be the key for them just like when they played Real Madrid and Juventus."

0820: Former Arsenal goalkeeper and coach Bob Wilson on BBC Radio Five Live
"It's very special and a huge night, and I think Arsenal have a great chance. I think Villarreal come into it a little bit under strength.

"Having said that, they're very much a South American outfit with lots of Argentineans and they have a wonderful player in Riquelme, who is the key to anything Villarreal do."

0809: Dermot Bolger, Ireland/Germany, via email
"I hope Arsenal do the business tonight and I hope all other supporters get behind them too!

"I'm a Liverpool fan and think its good for English football in general to have a team at this stage in the Champions league!

"Henry to score just before the tenth minute assist from Cesc Fabregas and Villarreal almost immediately equalise through a free-kick Riquelme but Arsenal make the game safe in the second half with a goal from Cesc to make it 2-1 on the night."

0804: aspi bilia, New Zealand, via email
"Looking forward to the last Euro game at Highbury. Hence will be a positive result for the Gunners."

0747: Chaz Chorka, France, via email
"This is going to be a right thriller. I think Arsenal have really proved themselves in Europe but Villarreal will be tricky."

0741: Mike, England, via email
"My stomach is in knots. There's only a few hours to go and Arsenal are on the verge of history."

0734: Del, UK
"Wenger's bubble is about to be burst. They are finally going to be found out and even Highbury can't save them."

PREDICTIONS

"If ever a team is due to concede a goal, that team is Arsenal. A very entertaining 2 - 2 draw."
Ben, England

"I foresee a 3-0 or 4-0 win. Come on you Gunners!"
Ben Livermore, England

"After 90 minutes + added time 1-1 with both teams playing with 10 men."
Matias Ibo, Holland

"3-1 (Forlan two and Riquelme) Come on Villarreal"
gary phillips, Wales

"2-1 Arsenal. Cesc and Henry to score and Riquelme to pull one back."
jose, England

"I'm afraid Arsenal have the same destiny as Inter. At Highbury 2-1 to the Gunners but they will not make it in Spain. 1-0 to the yellow submarine. Be prepared for another shock and enjoy the first 90 minutes."
Cristian, UK

"This is our year it wont be an easy game but I am 100% confident we will get a 2-0 win @ Highbury and a draw at Villarreal "come on the Arsenal"
James, England

"I am eagerly waiting for the kick-off time - Arsenal will win 2-0 with a brace from Henry."
mackysmart, Norway

"Arsenal should win this game comfortably knowing fully well that this is their last Euro game at Highbury, 4-0"
chinedu, Nigeria

"Nothing is gonna get past our back four and Lehman tonight! I predict a 1-0 Arsenal, with Henry scoring the winner of course."
Rosh, UK

NEWS UPDATES

Team news: Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas has recovered from a bruised foot but Jose Antonio Reyes is suspended, while Freddie Ljungberg is expected to return to the squad.

Meanwhile, Villarreal's first-choice centre-backs Gonzalo Rodriguez and Juan Manuel Pena are both ruled out.

Man in the middle: Austrian Konrad Plautz will referee Wednesday's first-leg showdown. Plautz has earned a reputation as a no-nonsense umpire on the pitch. He has presided over five Champions League matches this season, dishing out 13 yellow cards and one red card.

Weather news: Cloud and rain will spread south-east during the day - moderate south-west winds and a maximum temperature of 15 Deg C.

Wednesday evening will see even more cloudy weather with rain or drizzle at times and gentle southerly winds.

Newspaper headlines: Wednesday's newspapers all lead with French striker Thierry Henry reluctant to talk about whether he will quit the Gunners in the summer.

Asked if he felt he owed anything to the fans to provide them with an answer, he said: "Who do I owe, and for what? Don't you see my commitment on the pitch?"

MANAGERS AND PUNDITS

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger

  • Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger
    "We want to just enjoy it, be up for it and love it because we have waited for so long to be there. We have not made it for eight years, so let's just enjoy it, go for it and love it.

    "There is no right for anybody to be there - if you look at what Juventus have invested recently, for three years on the trot they have gone out in the quarter-final now.

    "So of course you want to take your chance and opportunity."

    Villarreal coach Manuel Pellegrini

  • Villarreal coach Manuel Pellegrini
    "Any team that plays Villarreal is favourite because we have not got big history, curriculum or money.

    "Many supporters did not expect to be in the semi-finals of the Champions League - but why we are here is because of the good work ethic of the team.

    "That does not mean we do not want to go further and that we are not capable of doing so."

    David Platt, former Arsenal player
    "Arsenal are very much the favourites tonight playing against Villarreal. I think Villarreal have defied all the odds to get this far and therefore they have to be respected.

    "I think Arsene Wenger will be making sure the players aren't complacent because they haven't got one foot in the semi-final yet, even though people think they have."

    Louis van Gaal, AZ Alkmaar coach and 1995 Champions League winning coach
    "They have been close to making this stage of the competition in the last few years but now things have really come together for them.

    "When you look at the quality of the squad they have had for a while, I think they should have made the semi-finals before.

    "They have struggled in the Premiership but it is hard to combine doing well in the League and excelling in Europe."

    Bob Wilson, former Arsenal goalkeeper
    "Arsene Wenger has tended to flood the midfield area in European games and it's worked very well I just think they just have to play the Arsenal way, which is have a quick tempo and not allow Villarreal to do what South American-style sides do.

    Tim Vickery, South American football reporter
    "From coach and keeper through defenders to strikers, Villarreal have the South American touch. Their success is an outstanding example of what the continent's players can do if placed in a context that understands them.

    "If Villarreal are the yellow submarine then Riquelme is their periscope - head up, surveying everything around him. Then his passing is like the torpedoes, ripping holes in the opposing defence. "




  • WATCH AND LISTEN
    Listen to BBC Radio Five Live


    News conference: Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger


    News conference: Arsenal striker Thierry Henry



    SEE ALSO
    Arsenal v Villarreal
    17 Apr 06 |  Europe
    Wednesday's football photos
    19 Apr 06 |  Photo Galleries
    AC Milan 0-1 Barcelona
    18 Apr 06 |  Europe
    Juventus 0-0 Arsenal (agg 0-2)
    05 Apr 06 |  Europe


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