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Arsenal brush aside Villarreal to set up United showdown

Arsenal turned on the style to crush 10-man Villarreal 3-0 in the Champions League quarter-final second leg on Wednesday and set up an all-English semi-final showdown against Manchester United.

After spluttering through much of the season, Arsene Wenger's side are coming good at just the right time and their 4-1 aggregate victory was deserved reward for a ruthless performance.

Theo Walcott gave Arsenal the perfect start at the Emirates Stadium with a superb chip before Togo forward Emmanuel Adebayor struck to put the Gunners in control after half-time.

Robin van Persie's penalty underlined Arsenal's superiority and Sebastian Eguren's red card for complaining about the spot-kick only compounded Villarreal's misery.

The north Londoners will now face reigning European champions United in a mouth-watering last four clash after Sir Alex Ferguson's side eliminated Porto.

Wenger said: "We sent out a very offensive team and we played in a convincing way. I was very impressed with the quality and speed of our game.

"Villarreal have a good technical level but we gave them problems they didn't like. We were very explosive on the counter-attack. "It is a test to play United next but a challenge you relish and we are excited about that."

Villarreal boss Manuel Pellegrini said: "They were better than us. The second goal made it very difficult to come back, although we still had a chance.

"I am disappointed. We wanted to get through to the semi-finals but they were better than us even before the sending off, so we have no complaints."

Adebayor's stunning bicycle kick in Spain last week had given Arsenal a priceless away goal and Wenger's players knew a 0-0 draw would be enough to send them through. It was just as well Wenger hadn't planned a rearguard action as Arsenal were without an entire back-four - William Gallas, Gael Clichy and Johan Djourou were all injured while Bacary Sagna pulled out late with a virus - as well as first choice keeper Manuel Almunia.

From the first minute they attacked.

Walcott surged away down the right and, after Adebayor just failed to reach his low cross, van Persie's header looped over.

Walcott's next contribution in the 10th minute was even more effective.

When Cesc Fabregas flicked a backheel towards the England winger, Diego Godin should have cleared, but he completely missed the ball.

Walcott took full advantage as advanced into the penalty area before lofting a sublime chip over Diego Lopez.

Arsenal were desperately close to going further ahead when van Persie's free-kick was parried by Lopez. Adebayor headed the rebound goalwards, only for Gonzalo Rodriguez to clear off the line.

Walcott continued terrorising Villarreal's defence with his searing pace, but neither van Persie or Adebayor could convert a pair of teasing crosses.

Pellegrini's team still only needed a goal to get back in the tie but, with influential Spain midfielder Marcos Senna injured and former Gunners winger Robert Pires lacking his old spark, they found it hard to generate any momentum.

Inspired by the imperious Fabregas, Arsenal kept pressing and Adebayor delivered the knockout blow on the hour.

Fabregas won a header in midfield that fell for van Persie and the Dutch forward sliced open Villarreal's defence with a perfect pass to Adebayor, who kept his footing to slide a fine finish into the far corner.

Adebayor and his team-mates sprinted to the corner flag for a spot of synchronised dancing, while Wenger indulged in an eccentric fist-clenched celebration of his own.

It wasn't long before Wenger was on his feet again. In the 69th minute, Godin launched into a lunging tackle on Walcott, making contact with the ball just as he clattered into the winger.

Wolfgang Stark immediately awarded a penalty to the fury of Villarreal's players, who surrounded the German referee. Stark lost his temper with their protests and sent off Eguren.

Van Persie wasn't fazed by the fuss and calmly drove his penalty past Lopez to put the result beyond doubt.

With Saturday's FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea in mind, Wenger was even able to take off Walcott, van Persie and Adebayor in the closing stages. It was that kind of match for the revitalised Gunners. LONDON, Thursday, AFP


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