Adebayor scores wonder goal as young Gunners come of age

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The Independent Online

Emmanuel Adebayor netted a crucial away goal as Arsenal came from behind to secure a draw against Villarreal in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final at El Madrigal.

The Togo striker made it three in two games, and five in this European campaign, with a stunning scissor-kick after 66 minutes to cancel out an equally impressive opener from home captain Marcos Senna.

Arsene Wenger's side lost both goalkeeper Manuel Almunia and centre-back William Gallas to injury during the first half, but rallied to secure what could prove to be a decisive result to defend at Emirates Stadium next Wednesday night.

The last time Arsenal played at the intimidating Spanish ground was three seasons ago when a dramatic late penalty save from Jens Lehmann guided them through to the European Cup final.

While that journey ultimately ended in defeat to Barcelona, there is growing belief Rome in 2009 could just prove the coming of age for Wenger's young Gunners.

Villarreal have never lost at home in the Champions League and kept holders Manchester United to a goalless draw earlier this season.

So it was no surprise the hosts settled quickly.

There was a goal-mouth scramble following a corner when Gael Clichy cleared off the line and Almunia smothered the loose ball as defender Gonzalo Rodriguez looked to capitalise.

Villarreal then took the lead in stunning fashion after 10 minutes. The ball was worked down the right before being passed inside to Senna. The skipper took aim and drilled a wonderful 25-yard strike past Almunia into the top corner, setting El Madrigal alight.

Arsenal looked to respond immediately and forced a couple of corners. A smart turn and run by Theo Walcott fed Cesc Fabregas, who slipped Samir Nasri, replacing the cup-tied Andrey Arshavin, in on the left side of the area. The Frenchman's angled drive was pushed around the post by Diego Lopez.

Arsenal were forced into a change after 27 minutes when Almunia, who sustained an ankle injury in the early goal-line scramble, was replaced by Lukasz Fabianski.

The young Pole was immediately called into action, first saving low to his left from Senna and then producing a good reaction block at the near post to deny Joan Capdevila.

The visitors had some good spells of neat passing but were unable to make the best of promising positions.

After 38 minutes, Villarreal were awarded a free-kick when Alex Song tripped Giuseppe Rossi, once a Manchester United player, just outside the penalty area, the Arsenal midfielder booked.

Gallas was then clattered by the falling striker and had to be carried off on a stretcher for treatment, eventually being replaced by Johan Djourou.

Ariel Ibagaza struck the free-kick off the bottom of the wall. Cani then shot wide as the Spaniards pressed for a second.

In stoppage time, Arsenal were awarded a free-kick in a central position after Adebayor went down in between two defenders.

Fabregas took his shot early, rolling the ball into the net, but the quick effort was ruled out by Norwegian referee Tom Henning Ovrebo and the Arsenal captain was shown a yellow card. Kolo Toure's strike was then blocked by the wall.

As the hour mark approached, it was continuing to be a night of frustration for the Barclays Premier League side, who had been on a decent run of form heading into the game.

Walcott floated a ball in from the right, which Adebayor glanced wide.

Then, out of nothing, the big striker struck a superb equaliser to stun the home crowd in the 66th minute. There seemed little danger when Fabregas, who set up both Adebayor's goals against Manchester City on Saturday, lofted a high ball into the Villarreal penalty area.

Even though surrounded by three markers and with his back to goal, Adebayor collected the ball on his chest before dispatching a brilliant scissor-kick into the far corner. Nasri drilled wide as Arsenal went looking for a second.

Former Arsenal midfielder Robert Pires was introduced, to a warm reception from the travelling fans, for the final 21 minutes, replacing Joseba Llorente.

Walcott blazed over after being played in on the right of the penalty area by Fabregas, before he was replaced by Emmanuel Eboue.

There was still some defending to do for the Gunners as Rossi looked to get on the end of a near-post cross before Senna almost netted another 25-yard effort.

But Arsenal remained strong under intense late pressure to give themselves every chance in the second leg.

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