Highbury’s last stand

1:45 – Kickoff, Arsenal’s formation looks superficially more defensive than Villareal’s with only Henry up front, but that’s misleading since Ljungberg and Pires are so fast to get forward.

1:46 – Ugly pass back to Lehman there, but he manages to avoid pulling a Barthez and clears it nicely. Villereal has clearly decided to press the Arsenal defense, but Toure and Senderos are dealing with it easily enough.

1:48 – That was quick. First yellow for Arzo of Villareal. Free kick to the right of the box. Henry is taking it… sloppy defending on the cross in… bounces around but Toure fires wide from five yards out. Defenders are so hopeless sometimes.

1:51 – Villareal tries a little longball. Goal kick deep into the Arsenal end, but Toure blows the header so Forlani tries an optimistic shot from 35 meters. It would be three points if this was football. Arsenal brings it up, corner, Gilberto gets a header, but no chance and it’s wide. The Gunners are winning every ball in the midfield.

1:55 – Arsenal presses, Villareal loses the ball, but Henry’s pullback goes for nothing… SQUIRREL ON THE PITCH… he’s in the area, now he’s in the net! What is this, the Discovery Channel?

1:56 – I’m cracking up, the Arsenal fans are chanting “There’s only one squirrel”. And there’s only one Thierry Henry! Through ball… GOAL! 1-nil to the Arsenal!

1:57 – Numerous bad words! Vehemently spoken! Offsides? Goal disallowed. It’s close… announcer doesn’t buy it but he looked a step off to me. If you’re looking for a four-letter word that rhymes with truck, I am your man. On the plus side, the squirrel is back.

2:01 – Villareal’s coach looks like the Walmart version of the Special One. I don’t fear him. Also, he’s apparently starting Barbara Bach on the right wing. Nice headband.

2:03 – The ref stops the game as Mr. Squirrel is now running through the penalty area. However, he finally headed off to the showers, so it’s back on. A little attack down the left, but Toure and Hleb deal with it. Apparently Troy Polamalu is moonlighting on Villareal’s left wing in the offseason.

2:06 – And my second favorite men’s Calvin Klein underwear model makes a run down the side but can’t keep it inbounds. Run, Freddie, run like the wind! Defense looks a little shaky again dealing with a long ball, Senderos can’t keep up and Lehman has to run out of the box and clear it outside. Free kick from 40 meters.

2:09 – Right at Lehman. Kein problem, mein Freund. Arsenal breaks back with 4 on 3, Pires tries a Bergkamp special from the corner of the area and only manages to prove that he’s no Dennis Bergkamp. WE WANT DENNIS! Okay, it’s probably too soon for that.

2:16 – Villareal has a midfielder named Arubabarracuda or something to that effect. I just thought I’d mention it for your edification. Henry reminds me of watching Randy Moss in 1998. You can tell the ball is heading his way from the sound of the crowd. Ces Fabregas beats two guys with a nice run towards the box but gets stuffed by the last defender before he can find space for a shot. For some reason, Toure just made a long and involved run with the ball towards his own line, then gives up a throw-in. Um, Kolo, we want to go THAT way….

2:18 – Henry cross, ping-pong, Pires is through! No, Arzo tackles the ball from behind and gives up a corner. It’s in, Toure misses AGAIN. Senderos, stuffed, another shot, blocked and over. Another corner… right to Barbosa, who appears to be about 15. Arsenal is knocking hard, but the bounces aren’t falling their way yet.

2:21 – Oh for Pete’s sake! Toure totally blows a clear and Forlani makes a perfect pullback cross. Fortunately it’s behind the two Villareal players and Senderos clears. Arsenal counterattacks fast, Henry bursts pass the defender and crosses hard to Freddie but Barbaros blocks it.

2:24 – And it’s a 5.4 on Arzo’s anguished dive after crossing legs with Pires. The ref doesn’t buy it, though. No yellow.

2:26 – Arzo can’t stay with Henry, but Villareal’s packing seven in the box and Arsenal can’t break through. Hard low cross…. GOOOOOAAAAAL!

2:27 – It was Toure of all people! . Redemption! Hleb ran onto a quick through ball, (great pass from Henry after the corner rebounds), cut the ball right across the face of goal and Toure slides in for a lovely redirection that ends in the back of the net. Arsenal isn’t getting anywhere up the middle or on the right, but the left is clearly vulnerable. Freddie makes a nice run there but the entry pass is blocked.

2:30 – Nice free kick from Villareal but Lehman punches it out into the middle. Aaagh! Toure misses another header when the ball comes back in, Gilberto takes down Josemari… it should be a penalty, but no call. Okay, let’s just get to halftime, gang. Toure tries to clear but gives the ball away again… I know he scored, but I can just hear my high school coach now: “get him out of there!”

HALFTIME. Good, positive start, but something has to be done on the Gunner’s defensive right. I like Toure, but he’s having serious problems tonight. I’d be shocked if Villareal wasn’t thinking the same thing, on their part, but considering that they’re already clogging the area and Arzo’s on a yellow, I don’t see what more they can do.

45:00 – Second half, no changes to either side. Freddie blows by the defender and breaks down the left but it’s a weak entry pass.

47:47 – Nice work, six passes clean passes sets up a ripping shot from Gilberto at the top of the area which curves wide right. Arsenal breaks again, but Hleb can’t find anyone. Arsenal throw-in.

50:00 – Freddie rounds the corner of the box, gets taken down but the ref waves it off. Fair enough. Villareal corner. Dangerous ball comes in low, flicked on into the center but Toure clears on the first bounce.

53:33 – Pretty clean game, I must say. Henry goes down hard on his back, but he jumped over the defender, the defender didn’t undercut him. No theatrics, just a Gallic shrug and handshakes all round. Have I mentioned that I like Thierry Henry? Flashy stuff from Arsenal, attacking and attacking from the right, finally Ebuue smashes the ball across the face of goal but it’s slightly behind Henry and there’s no power on the shot. There’s definitely another goal in this for the Gunners.

58:00 – Villareal has given up on the pressing. They’re reeling from the death of a thousand cuts here. That last round of no less than four attacks into and out of the box without being able to reclaim the ball seems to have demoralized them. Yep, they’re obvioulsly getting frustrated now, as Tacchinardi picks up a yellow for taking Hleb down from behind and he’ll miss the rematch. Free kick, Toure heads harmlessly onto Barbosa.

63:00 – Arsene can’t take it, he’s got his face in his hands. Nice flip to Hleb, but he’s a step off. Villareal tries to press, but Senderos and Toure play keepaway. Arsenal breaks up the right but the linesman can’t keep up and wrongly calls Henry offsides from ten yards back. There has to be a technological fix for this, there just has to be. Tacchinardi gets bumped, falls down and will apparently require immediate amputation judging by his reaction.

67:30 – Alvarez jumps to block a Freddie cross and comes down on the side of his ankle. The fans are whistling, but that actually looked like it hurt quite a bit. Henry in the corner, takes on three and manages a perfect cross but no one’s there. Dennis would have been there. I know, I’ve watched 100 of his goals in the last two days. So now it’s time. WE WANT DENNIS!

70:45 – Hleb crosses long, Pires keeps it in bounds and promptly gives the ball away. He’s been uncharacteristically invisible all night. Villareal subs Sorin for Josico, as if I’ve ever heard of either one of them.

73:30 – Senna grabs Freddie’s colla
r, tries to bulldog him down, and finally shoves him hard enough to send him flying. He then holds up both his hands to indicate that he hasn’t touched anyone. This would be more convincing if Freddie wasn’t lying flat on the ground with a mouth full of turf right in front of him.

77:55 – Here comes Dennis! And for a bonus, the Young Dennis. Amandagon would love the Young Dennis, he’s a near rapist too. Hleb and Freddie come out. Nicely done, fellows.

82:00 – The Young Dennis steals the ball and Dennis sends a cross that looks more like a shot right to the keeper. Long ball… offsides Villareal. They defend well but they don’t seem to have a clue about attacking beyond Route One.

86:00 – Senderos always looks a half-step slow, but he’s solid. Wins the ball then draws the foul. Villareal has controlled the last five minutes, though. Arsenal is too complacent. Another yellow for Villareal, Guille Franco was dissenting a little too vigorously over an offsides call.

88:40 – Henry steals the ball from Henry at the edge of the box, Alvarez bodyslams him but it’s only another yellow, should have been a red. Free kick, looked like a hand, ball comes back in and Toure completely whiffs on the ball. Which is just as well, he would have been offsides.

90:00 – 5 minutes of injury time. Seems like a lot, but okay. I blame the squirrel.

92:50 – Free kick from 45, headed across by Henry and somehow the defender cuts the ball out from Dennis on the bounce. Excellent and desperate defending, drat them. That should do it for the night.

95:00 – Honey, it’s raining in England! And it’s over. One-nil to the Arsenal. A fitting finish for a storied stadium and a good start for the first leg of the semifinal.