By Richard Clarke 

Arsène Wenger refuses to accept that Arsenal are favourites for the Champions League Quarter-Final tie with Villarreal.

Most at Emirates Stadium would have been relatively happy to be matched with the Spanish side. Arguably, the main requirements from Friday’s draw were simply to avoid Barcelona and the three English clubs. In addition, Arsenal have had a recent success over the ‘Yellow Submarine” – that dramatic Semi-Final in 2006.

Perhaps this Villarreal side are not quite the same vintage. Manuel Pellegrini’s outfit are in fourth place yet a hefty 21 points adrift of La Liga leaders Barcelona. But, at Friday’s press conference, Wenger contested that the Champions League is pure cup football at this stage.

“I don’t know [about their form] and in fairness it’s not really important,” said the Frenchman. “In this game I feel there are no real favourites and if I show you what has been said in the newspapers over the last six months you cannot put us as a favourite.

“It is a difficult 50:50 draw. We know Villarreal and we have the experience having played them before. It is maybe a good opportunity to play the first game away from home but at that level it is very difficult to be creative in the statement you make.

“It will depend on the quality of your performance and the players available as well. Now many of them go away on international duty and I hope we don’t lose players through injuries because many of our players are coming back from them now. So it looks like we are in a good situation.”

A very good situation indeed. It is easy to forget that 2006 was the Club’s first appearance in the final four of the Champions League/European Cup so reaching that stage again must be looked upon as a notable achievement. Not that Wenger is looking past Villarreal.

“We have learned that to knock out any Spanish team is very difficult,” he said. “The return leg at Villarreal [in their 2006 semi-final] was a very tough game for us. We know we have to prepare really well for the first game.

“But this is a very difficult competition and you can see again this year there are many big clubs in Europe who are not in the Quarter-Finals. We are one of the five clubs who have for 10 consecutive years qualified for the Champions League. So to go to the end of it is of course our immense desire but you cannot put us as a favourite.”

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20 Mar 2009