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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Apr 25, 2006

Wenger surprised by Arsenal's miserly Euro defence

Arsene Wenger admits the watertight defence which has taken Arsenal to the brink of European glory has come as a shock to him.

The Gunners are looking for their 10th European clean sheet in a row when they face Villarreal in tonight's Champions League semi-final second leg.

They are normally famed for attacking football under Wenger but have shattered AC Milan's previous record of seven games without conceding a goal.

Another shut-out in Villarreal and the Londoners, 1-0 up after the first leg, will be in their first European Cup final against Milan or Barcelona.

Wenger said: 'Our defensive record is a bit of a surprise to me but I'm happy we have it because it is something that can give the team confidence.

'We know we are solid defensively and every inch of confidence you can get before a game like this is important.'

Arsenal have knocked Real Madrid and Juventus out of this season's competition but Wenger expects Villarreal's little El Madrigal arena to generate a fiery atmosphere.

Wenger said: 'We have shown character against Juventus and Real Madrid and we need it again.

'It will be a more intimidating atmosphere because it is a small stadium and therefore I feel the heat will be higher.

'They will play the same way but will be less timid and (Argentinian playmaker Juan Roman) Riquelme will be more influential. He shows more personality, character and decisiveness at home.

'We must play to win the game. I don't think they will score three. Let's try and score and that will be a big blow to them.

'You cannot go into a game 1-0 up thinking you can just rely on that.'

Wenger criticised Villarreal players for play-acting in last week's first leg and expects more of the same tactics.

The Arsenal manager said: 'What can we do about it? We are responsible for our own behaviour. When it's not right we have to stand up and say we were wrong.

'They behaved like they did and the referee has a job to make the game respectable.

'I didn't think we did anything wrong and we were fair in our behaviour, like we were on Saturday.'

Wenger was locked in an angry row with Tottenham head coach Martin Jol during Saturday's north London derby at Highbury, which ended 1-1.

He was furious because Jol's Spurs players refused to kick the ball out of play when two Arsenal players were on the floor, apparently injured after colliding.

Wenger said: 'I feel quite relaxed, contrary to the impression I gave on Saturday because I believe my team is up for it.

'I trust this team completely and what happened was nothing to do with the pressure of getting results.'

Sol Campbell will return to the centre of Arsenal's defence with Philippe Senderos out with a knee injury. Full-back Gael Clichy is back in the squad after injury but will not start.

Wenger admits he is gambling on Campbell, who has played only an hour of competitive football since walking out of a game against West Ham at half-time, on February 1.

Campbell was said to be under mental strain and then injuries delayed his return.

Wenger said: 'There's no better opportunity for him to come back and show his strengths than in a semi-final where you know you will have to defend well.

'I trust his quality and his strengths. The players trust him as well.

'Sol was our central defender when we went 49 games unbeaten and that's why everybody still has complete confidence in Sol.

'I agree that he has shown a weakness in his life on that day - but that can happen to anybody and everybody in our team is capable of understanding that.'