By Chris Harris
They say 'revenge is a dish best served cold' and, after a three-year wait, Villarreal could get their own back on Arsenal this month.
On April 27, 2006, the Yellow Submarine were within a whisker of forcing extra time in their Champions League Semi-Final against Arsène Wenger's side. But Jens Lehmann saved Juan Roman Riquelme's late penalty and, while Arsenal celebrated, Villarreal had to stomach an excruciating European exit.
This time around the noisy regulars at El Madrigal will demand a different conclusion. This Quarter-Final tie won't be decided in Spain but any sort of lead could be priceless when their team head to Emirates Stadium in eight days' time.
We asked Inigo Gurruchaga of El Correo for a Spanish perspective ahead of the tie. Read on for his take on Villarreal's rise from obscurity, their key man in midfield and the enduring quality of Arsenal legend Robert Pires.
THE STORY SO FAR
"They have been the surprise team for a number of years now. They are a team who have come from nowhere and have played a lot in the lower divisions. Villarreal is close to Valencia and they are the younger brother of other teams in a way. But suddenly they have become an established force in Spanish and European football.
"Their rise has been a combination of two things really: first of all it’s the money available to the team - that is associated with people successful in the building industry that has been thriving in Spain. Secondly, it’s down to having a great manager - that is Manuel Pelegrini. He is a very discreet man who is not keen on making grand statements. He is not in the headlines but he’s been very successful in signing good players and building a good team."
"El Madrigal is certainly not the biggest stadium in Spain but it is very compact and there can be a very heated atmosphere. The area we are talking about is the east of Spain where crowds are usually very hot and very enthusiastic. If you’re an Arsenal player, or a Real Madrid player, used to playing in big stadiums, suddenly you’re in a compact stadium very close to the pitch. Some players get ‘stage fright’ going to places like the Bernabeu but this is another type when you go to a small stadium in humble surroundings. You find yourself playing at a level you are not accustomed to against a very strong team in a hot atmosphere. That’s the way it works for Villarreal at El Madrigal."
CAUSE FOR CONCERN
"Villarreal, even if they have a good squad, I don’t think they have Arsenal’s depth. They don’t have the youthfulness of Arsenal, who are getting all their injured players back. Arsenal are on the way up and I’m not certain about Villarreal."
MAN OF THE MOMENT
"Robert Pires has the connection from his own family background so he is the one guy who has integrated very well in Spain. For other players, because they come from a completely different culture, they can struggle. But Pires has travelled from London in an almost French environment and integrated well in London. The trip to Spain has been so easy for him – in the beginning he had injuries – but now he is totally familiar with the surroundings and he’s talking the language. He has fitted in very well.
"Another element is the type of football he has played; maybe he had some problems in adapting to the pace of the Premier League at first but his game fits very well indeed with Spanish football. It’s very fast and quick but at the same time he has wonderful skill. He can fit into a team with a Latin-American feel about it, physically strong but with a desire to play technical football."
THE ONE TO WATCH
"I cannot speak too highly of Marcos Senna. For me he was the man of Euro 2008, even if Xavi was given that title, I think that players like Xavi always need somebody like Senna behind him to recover the ball and take care of the heavy work. Senna connects with other players in Spanish football who have come from Brazil and the surroundings areas. People like Mauro Silva and Dunga have created a school that produces players of enormous quality. They were always there but maybe we are now seeing them more obviously.
"Senna, for me, has all the qualities – he’s a guy who recovers plenty of balls, defensively is moving all the time, he is never spectacular but always creating attacks and building counter-attacks. At the end of it all, something that Mauro Silva, for me one of the greatest players in history, never had, is a very mean shot. He scores goals and can go forward. He’s scored some very important goals for Villarreal and the Spanish national team. He is a very important player for Villarreal and one of the best players in Europe."Copyright 2017 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source