Villarreal CF striker Diego Forlán believes "playing our own game" is the key to prolonging an excellent record against British clubs as the Spanish side travel to north London to take on Arsenal FC in the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League tonight.
The Primera División side have met British opposition four times over the past two seasons, and are yet to taste defeat. A 2-0 home win against Middlesbrough FC in the 2004/05 UEFA Cup group stage was followed by two 2-1 wins against Everton FC in the third qualifying round of this season's UEFA Champions League. Villarreal then progressed to the last 16 of the competition from a group that included Manchester United FC – with whom they shared two goalless draws last autumn – before defeating outgoing Scottish champions Rangers FC on away goals in the first knockout round. Such a record would seem to point to a preference for playing British opposition, but Forlán believes past achievements will be largely irrelevant at Highbury.
'Play your own game'
"We've got a good record against British clubs, but that doesn't matter now," said the Uruguayan international forward, who is Villarreal's joint top scorer in the competition with two goals. "Arsenal are different from the other teams we've played but we have to keep playing like we have been doing in the past few months. Against British clubs, you have to take into account that they'll be very strong physically and concentrate on playing your own game. Arsenal will be difficult opponents so, though we'd like to enjoy this moment we know we'll be in for a hard match."
Villarreal's success has been based on a solid defence, which has conceded just six goals in ten matches in the competition proper, but the Spanish side must make do without usual centre-backs Gonzalo Rodríguez and Juan Manuel Peña at Highbury, something Forlán acknowledges is cause for concern. "It's not easy to be without two key defenders, we don't have a big squad but I'm sure their replacements will come in and do a good job." With Arsenal having just set a new UEFA Champions League record of eight successive clean sheets, the signs would seem to point to chances being at a premium, but Forlán believes the English team's defence can be breached. "Arsenal have a very good defensive record but we can definitely score, and that would set us up perfectly for the second leg."
In their first season in the UEFA Champions League Villarreal's progress to the last four has taken many observers by surprise – but not Forlán. "We started in the Champions League [last August] but we're not surprised to be here. Our group looked difficult but we got through it, and having knocked out Rangers and [FC] Internazionale [Milano] since then, we deserve to get to the semi-finals. Arsenal are the favourites, but in every game – except perhaps against Rangers – we've been the underdogs and we're not interested in what people outside the club think."
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