Wenger: 'We caught them at right moment'

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The Independent Online

Arsène Wenger last night hailed his team's passage into the semi-finals of the European Cup as "a victory for football teams who try to play football". The Arsenal manager also joked that reaching the last four of the competition for the first time meant that he could no longer be blamed for previous failings.

"Every year we were expected in the Champions' League and we were not there in the final four and this year no one expected us and we are there," Wenger said. "In the end maybe people felt I was the handicap so I'm relieved for that. We were in positions when it was easier to get through and we didn't. And this year we have knocked Real Madrid out and Juventus out."

Instead, Wenger declared, it was Juventus who suffered the "hangover" of their comprehensive defeat in the first leg which meant they were unable to break down the Arsenal defence. "We put doubt in the mind of Juventus in the first game and they never really recovered from that," he said.

Wenger added that in the past Arsenal had been stretched by their League and FA Cup commitments and that an unexpected bonus of their poor showing in those competitions this year was having more strength for Europe.

"In England we like to go forward and score goals so we are a little frustrated that we didn't score," Wenger added of the goalless draw. "But I'm very happy with the defending. Not to concede against Real and Juventus is outstanding.

"Overall we controlled the game well and as long as Juventus didn't score we were not in a position where we had to come out. I wanted us to come out but there was a subconscious desire to protect our advantage."

Wenger said the game was over once Pavel Nedved was dismissed, and conceded Arsenal had "caught Juventus at the right moment because we are on the way up and they are going through a difficult time".

Wenger also expressed his disappointment for Jose Antonio Reyes' caution which rules him out of the semi-final first leg against Villarreal. "I felt it was a harsh yellow card," he said.

Wenger has been impressed by Villarreal. "I feel they are a very good team and controlled the game completely," he said of their quarter-final against Internazionale. "They have an outstanding player in Riquelme." Wenger said Arsenal were not favourites. "What you can say is that you have two unexpected teams. It's a real 50-50 [tie]."

Fabio Capello, the Juventus coach, said his side lost to exceptional opponents. "In the two matches we played, they scored two goals so they are better than us." Capello brushed aside criticism of his players, saying they had "played very well". "We were unlucky in the second half. We had a few chances and didn't put them away but we were playing against what is probably the most in-form team in Europe at the moment."

He also dismissed the barracking from the home fans which accompanied the Juve performance. The chant from the crowd in the last 10 minutes was "Andate a lavorare", which translates as "Go and get a job". Capello said: "The whistles and insults from the crowd were unjustified. You have to accept the result when you are up against an opponent this strong. They started to protest against us at the very beginning. I didn't understand that and didn't appreciate that. If we want to harm ourselves then let's go on like this. We are probably masochists."

The coach said Arsenal had a strong chance of winning the competition. "If Arsenal stay in good shape they will definitely be a difficult team to beat," he said.

The Juve defender Fabio Cannavaro added: "Playing against English teams has changed in recent years. Now when they play away from home they come to defend in numbers. They are far better organised defensively. They sit back and look to hit you on the break."

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