Arsenal striker Robin van Persie has been ruled out of Tuesday’s Champions League quarter-final first leg against Villarreal with a groin injury. The 25-year-old picked up the problem on international duty with the Netherlands and missed Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Manchester City on Saturday.
Samir Nasri (virus) and Theo Walcott (knee) have been passed fit. But Eduardo (groin), Abou Diaby (thigh) and Tomas Rosicky remain sidelined and Andrey Arshavin is ineligible.
Van Persie is Arsenal’s top scorer this season with 16 goals and helped the Gunners reach the last eight with the only goal in their last 16 first leg against Roma and a spot kick during the penalty shoot-out in the second leg.
Villarreal have injury problems on their own, with Spain winger Santi Cazorla set to miss the remainder of the season. The influential 24-year-old fractured his fibula during his side’s 3-0 defeat at Almeria.
- This tie is a repeat of the 2005/06 semi-final, won 1-0 by Arsenal thanks to Kolo Touré’s first-leg goal in the last European match played at Highbury – although the London club needed a last-minute penalty save by Jens Lehmann from Juan Román Riquelme in the second leg to escape El Madrigal with a goalless draw.
- Villarreal’s record against English clubs is: P9 W3 D5 L1. At home their record is: P5 W2 D3 L0. In those five past meetings with English opposition at El Madrigal, they conceded just one goal scored, curiously, by a Spaniard – Everton FC’s Mikel Arteta.
- • Arsenal have lost three European finals to Spanish opposition. They lost 5-4 on penalties to Valencia CF following a goalless draw in the 1979/80 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup final and succumbed 2-1 to Real Zaragoza in the final of the same competition in 1994/95 before a 2-1 defeat by FC Barcelona in the 2005/06 UEFA Champions League final in Paris.
- • That defeat by Barcelona was Robert Pirès’ final appearance for Arsenal after six seasons with the club, during which he won two Premier League titles and two FA Cups. Voted the English Football Writers’ Player of the Year in 2002, he made 284 appearances, scoring 84 goals, before moving to Villarreal in summer 2006.
- • Villarreal have kept only four clean sheets in their last 30 matches in all competitions having managed six in their opening nine games this season. In contrast, Arsenal have kept clean sheets in six of their last eight Premier League games, and have conceded only four league goals in 2009 – all away from home – fewer than any other side.
It hurts me to say that Arsenal are my dark horse for the Champions League this year as I am not a big Wenger fan. But he is getting players back and healthy at the right time of the season and I would be not be surprised to see Arsenal do a cup double this year.