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Wenger, Pellegrini still confident of reaching final

Written by: Staff

LONDON, Apr 20 (Reuters) Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger and Villarreal counterpart Manuel Pellegrini remain optimistic of reaching the Champions League final after the Londoners claimed a narrow advantage over the Spaniards.

Defender Kolo Toure's goal late in the first half yesterday secured Arsenal a 1-0 semi-final, first leg win in the last European match staged at Highbury before the club move to a new stadium.

''I'm reasonably pleased but I felt we should have scored more goals,'' said Wenger, who said before the match that he wanted it to be a memorable occasion.

''It was a difficult situation keeping a clean sheet and going forward and we didn't find our flow in the second half. It was difficult to dictate the game because they played very well and made things difficult for us.'' Villarreal's Pellegrini was not overly concerned by the narrow defeat.

''We didn't play too well, but the result was not too bad and I am confident we can get a good result in Spain and go through,'' he said.

''We didn't have control of the game. We did create some chances but Arsenal played well.'' Arsenal dominated for long periods but despite their slick passing found Villarreal, like the London side making a first appearance in the Champions League semi-finals, resolute in defence.

The home side extended their competition record to nine successive games without conceding and Wenger is confident they can maintain a watertight defence in Tuesday's return at El Madrigal.

BEST PERFORMANCE ''We will need to produce our best away performance in the competition in the second leg but we have not conceded a goal in the competition for nine games and I am confident we can do it,'' he added.

Wenger picked out impressive Brazilian midfielder Gilberto for praise, saying: ''He has always been a leader, maybe not a vocal one but he is a leader in the dressing room.'' Arsenal captain Thierry Henry, who had an early effort harshly ruled out for offside, hopes Villarreal show more attacking intent in the second leg.

The Primera Liga side rarely threatened at Highbury and restricted themselves to a handful of long-range strikes from playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme.

''I would like to see them have a go at us and then we can play them on the counter attack because even at 1-0 down they didn't come out or try to do anything,'' said Henry.

''But 1-0 is always better than 2-1 and we have shown that we can keep a clean sheet.'' Looking ahead to the return, the France striker added: ''We are not thinking of the final. We have shown we can do a job away from home.'' The Villarreal players are still convinced they reach the final against either compatriots Barcelona or AC Milan, with the Spanish champions leading 1-0 after the first leg in Italy.

Villarreal captain Quique Alvarez told Spanish state television: ''We didnt play well. We knew Arsenal were a great team and they defended very well and played on the break. But at least the result can be reversed and the tie is still open.'' Midfielder Alessio Tacchinardi added: ''Arsenal always play very well at home and they are a very difficult team to beat. It will be tough but we can still win the tie and make the final.'' REUTERS SC PM0437

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