arsenal joy as villarreal pay price published: wednesday 26 april 2006, 0.55cet
villarreal cf 0-0 arsenal fc (agg: 0-1)
jens lehmann's last-gasp penalty save from juan román riquelme sent the visitors into a first final.
by adam szreter from el madrigal
after the most one-sided of matches arsenal fc, one of the most famous clubs in england, qualified for their first european champion clubs' cup final by holding out for a goalless draw and progressing by virtue of kolo touré's first-leg winner and jens lehmann's last-gasp penalty save from juan román riquelme.
cruel finish for villarreal cf, it was the cruellest end to the yellow submarine's magical mystery tour but at least they had fulfilled the wishes of coach manuel pellegrini by going down with style. never mind the penalty, they might have won by three or four clear goals but a combination of poor finishing and the reflexes of lehmann in the arsenal goal kept them at bay.
french connection arsenal, after their heroics in previous rounds against real madrid cf and juventus, appeared a spent force but it will all be forgotten by 17 may when a team with a french flavour and led by a frenchman will proudly walk out at the stade de france for their finest hour. a strong early challenge by quique álvarez on aleksandr hleb set the tone for the spanish side, who completely dominated the first 45 minutes and would have levelled the tie on aggregate five minutes before the break but for arsenal's german international lehmann.
no sympathy there was another early blow for arsenal when they lost left-back mathieu flamini to injury after only eight minutes, to be replaced by gaël clichy in his first match since november, but their hosts were in no mood for compassion. they first came close on 17 minutes. after an intricate build-up, riquelme pulled the ball back from the byline invitingly, marcos senna teed it up for juan pablo sorín to shoot low through a crowd of players but lehmann was equal to it.
near misses guillermo franco squandered better chances - one after a neat turn that left touré for dead, then after being played in by diego forlán, but both times the mexican international's finish was wayward. sorín, like his argentinian team-mate riquelme, was increasingly prominent in the villarreal attack and touré had to be at his sharpest to intercept a clever lob that forlán threatened to convert.
arsenal frustration arsenal's frustration at their inability to break the shackles began to mount. sorín was fractionally short of connecting with javi venta's searching low cross from the right and with half-time approaching the same player then delivered with even greater precision. a long pass from álvarez was headed on by senna to javi venta, and this time his delivery found franco at the near post. it looked a certain goal but somehow lehmann managed to anticipate franco's touch and the ball squirmed to safety. on the stroke of half-time, the keeper was called into action once more, gathering a long-range free-kick from riquelme, and arsenal were grateful for the sanctuary of the dressing room.
villarreal pressure but there was to be little respite for wenger's men and franco went agonisingly close soon after the restart when he flashed a header from another javi venta cross just wide. that duo combined again soon afterwards in the same way with the same result – another header just off target with lehmann struggling.
forlán miss franco then turned provider as his bustling presence set up a golden opportunity for forlán but the blond uruguayan's powerful shot from the edge of the box lacked precision as once again the hosts were left empty-handed when their overall play deserved better. but as time ticked away an arsenal breakaway was becoming more of a threat.
late drama robert pirès was summoned from the bench as wenger attempted to stem the ferocious tide, while josé maría romero was introduced to the villarreal front line in a bid to seize the moment. that arrived in the 89th minute after clichy had pushed josé mari in the arsenal area. riquelme, a star of this uefa champions league season, stepped up to take responsibility but his spot-kick was pushed away by lehmann, another stellar presence. it was not to be for the brave spanish side.