Wenger content as Arsenal edge first leg

April 19, 2006

Arsene Wenger reflected on a job well done after Arsenal secured a 1-0 win over Villarreal in the last European tie to be played at Highbury and took a step closer to the Champions League final.

Sanjuan Quique Alvarez, Francesc Fabregas
Empics / MikeEgertonQuique Alvarez fells Francesc Fabregas

Kolo Toure's first goal of the campaign late in the first half proved enough to give the Gunners a slender lead to protect in the second leg next week.

While the Arsenal boss conceded his team could have made their possession count with at least a further goal, he was happy enough with the end result.

'It was a tense game where we could have got one more goal,' Wenger said. 'We were in a difficult situation once we were 1-0 up between keeping a clean sheet and going forwards.

'We did not really find our flow in the second half.'

The Arsenal boss added: 'I feel we paid a bit the price physically for playing many games. We lost a bit of sharpness which made us so dangerous when we won the ball in the other games.'

Wenger was unhappy with the way some of the Villarreal side looked to stop the flow of the match.

'They were quite tricky to break our counter-attacks down,' he said. 'There was one time when [Alessio] Tacchinardi was on the floor, he looked if it was a counter-attack or not, and then went down again.

'They did that very well.'

The Arsenal boss added: 'It is down to the referee to deal with that, and I do not want to put any bad vibes in that before the second leg.'

Captain Thierry Henry had what looked to be a perfectly good goal disallowed in the first half, the assistant referee flagging for offside.

Wenger reflected: 'I am convinced he was onside, but it is difficult to call when you do not have the video there.'

Brazilian midfielder Gilberto had an outstanding match, playing just ahead of the back four.

'He played very well,' Wenger declared. 'Gilberto has always been a leader, a quiet one. But for me, he is a real leader in the dressing room.'

The Arsenal boss admitted he would have liked to have given the Highbury faithful more to cheer about during their final night of European action at the famous old stadium, home to the Gunners since 1913.

'We could maybe have scored one more,' said Wenger, whose side will play at the new 60,000-seater Emirates Stadium in nearby Ashburton Grove next season.

'You want always to give everything to everybody, but it is not always predictable. You cannot do it on command - even us.'

Wenger accepts his emerging side now need to reproduce the goods once more, having already seen off the challenge of Real Madrid and Juventus in this season's competition.

'We want a great performance, but we have a big game on Saturday [against Tottenham] before that, and of course we want to deal well with that game too.'

Wenger added: 'I always say you always need two good games if you want to go through. We have another one in front of us. We want to go there to try to score goals and play our game.'

Wenger hinted he was ready to change a winning side for the visit of Spurs in their crunch Barclays Premiership clash on Saturday.

'I might rotate a bit because we need fresh legs - we have given a lot today,' he said.

Wenger revealed England full-back Ashley Cole was close to full fitness, but would not be considered yet.

'Ashley did well [for the reserves tonight]. He played for 90 minutes - but for Saturday or Tuesday, he is not ready,' the Arsenal manager said.

The early high tempo of the game had been brought to a halt when a rogue squirrel had to be ushered off the pitch, Arsenal goalkeeper Jens Lehmann shepherding it to the perimeter and off out of the ground.

Wenger quipped: 'He was quite fast and dribbling.'

Villarreal coach Manuel Luis Pellegrini, meanwhile, maintained his side were still very much in the tie.

'It is a scoreline which is not too bad and we can get a result and go through,' he reflected. 'We were playing quite fast, but did not have control of the game.

'Arsenal played well, but perhaps we should have made a few better chances.'

Austrian referee Konrad Plautz turned down what looked to be a strong claim for a first-half penalty for the visitors when Gilberto went through the back of striker Jose Mari.

Playmaker Riquelme was cautioned for his protests.

The Villarreal coach was left less than impressed, but curbed his anger, simply observing: 'The referee has not been that good tonight.'