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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Apr 19, 2006

Wenger wants winning Euro farewell for Highbury

Arsene Wenger is convinced his emerging side have the 'character' to write a new chapter in Arsenal's history as they prepare for the final European tie at Highbury.

The Gunners take on Villarreal in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final tonight in a game which will have extra significance as the club ready themselves for the switch to Ashburton Grove and a new, 60,000-seater stadium next season.

Highbury has certainly seen its fair share of classic encounters since 1913, and this season the famous old venue has produced some memorable European nights, as both Real Madrid and Juventus were humbled on Avenell Road.

Wenger firmly believes the current crop of youth and experience have all the makings of another fine team.

'This side has made a big, big step forwards,' declared the Frenchman, who took charge at Highbury in September 1996.

'I always had consistent belief in this team, and felt there was something in there which would come out.

'I believe we are ahead of schedule with them because they have character.'

Villarreal, like the Gunners, have reached the Champions League semi-finals for the first time - and on their debut season in the competition having knocked out Everton from the qualifiers and finished ahead of Manchester United in the group stages.

Wenger insists no-one will be taking the challenge of the Spanish side lightly tonight, but has urged his side to focus on playing their own style and not getting lost in the occasion.

'I feel you should not go into the game thinking you have not to fail,' observed Wenger, his side now having kept a record eight straight clean sheets in Europe.

'We want to just enjoy it, be up for it and love it because we have waited for so long to be there.

'We have not made it for eight years, so let's just enjoy it, go for it and love it.'

However, Wenger noted: 'There is no right for anybody to be there - if you look at what Juventus have invested recently, for three years on the trot they have gone out in the quarter-final now.

'So of course you want to take your chance and opportunity.'

Wenger can see no reason why captain Thierry Henry would not want to stay on at Arsenal if they won the Champions League, rather than consider there was nothing left to achieve with the Gunners.

The French striker has one more year left to run on his contract, but so far has resisted all the offers to commit himself to the club on a long-term basis.

Henry insisted his commitment on the pitch was enough to prove to the fans how much he loves Arsenal.

And the Gunners skipper wanted to stress the point when speaking last night to Sky Sports News following an official UEFA press conference at the club's training ground yesterday afternoon.

Henry said: 'What I heard might be used, that I do not owe my fans anything ... what I came out there to talk about was semi-finals of the Champions League, some people are trying to stitch me up with my fans.

'I have a great relationship with my fans I love them and I hope they love me.

'I think it was inappropriate.'