Arsenal FC midfielder Robert Pirès believes Villarreal CF will be forced to change their game plan if they are to overturn a one-goal first-leg deficit in the UEFA Champions League semi-final.
Kolo Touré's first-half strike was all that separated the sides at Highbury following a match of few chances in which Villarreal seemed primarily concerned with damage limitation ahead of Tuesday's return at El Madrigal. The Primera División team have mustered just four goals in five UEFA Champions League home games to date, and Pirès hopes the need to attack will leave more space for Arsenal to exploit.
"We're in front, which means Villarreal will be forced to come out a little bit more. In the first leg, they didn't take any chances, closed down the space in midfield and didn't really try to threaten us," he said. "They didn't offer very much in attack but will have to play differently [at El Madrigal]. If we'd got a second goal, obviously it would have made our lives much easier and given us a cushion, but as it is, we're in for a difficult night. In the first leg they closed us down quickly, but they'll have to be more adventurous in the second."
The 32-year-old Pirès - whose Arsenal contract expires this summer and who is reportedly a target for Villarreal - is confident a more expansive game would work in Arsenal's favour, saying: "We have a lead and that hopefully means we will be able to play on the counterattack over there, which suits us. We're not in the final yet, but I'm hopeful we can do it. We would have liked to have scored more goals at Highbury, of course, but as it is, the tie is interestingly poised."
Prior to the first leg, much was made of the threat posed by Villarreal playmaker Juan Román Riquelme. In the event Arsenal's youthful defence successfully stifled the Argentinian and extended its record-breaking run of UEFA Champions League clean sheets to nine matches - or 829 minutes. "We knew quite a lot about Villarreal, and it was important to keep Riquelme quiet because usually he's the player who can make the difference for them," Pirès admitted. "We managed to do that perfectly. Defensively we accomplished everything we set out to do."
Injuries have forced manager Arsène Wenger to turn to some of the more inexperienced members of his squad, and Pirès admits the mature performances of the likes of Emmanuel Eboué, Mathieu Flamini and Philippe Senderos have even caught some of their team-mates unawares. "Perhaps the thing that has surprised us most is the way the young players have coped calmly in the Champions League, they've not got carried away and have learned from each experience.
"The run without conceding is a great achievement but even if it comes to an end in Villarreal, it will not be a catastrophe," the French international continued. "The first objective is to score. We always create chances away from home – we did in Madrid and Turin – and if we keep our focus, we can get a goal and that could make the difference between reaching the final and not."
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