VILLARREAL, April 8 – A brilliant acrobatic equaliser by Emmanuel Adebayor earned Arsenal a 1-1 draw and a crucial away goal in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final against Villarreal here on Tuesday.
Spain’s Euro 2008 victor Marcos Senna had put Villarreal into a 10th minute lead with an unstoppable swerving shot but Adebayor levelled on 65 minutes with his fourth Champions League goal and it was one to remember.
The Togo striker controlled a superb pass from Cesc Fabregas on his chest before volleying home with an acrobatic scissors kick.
The away goal makes Arsenal slight favourites for the tie going into the return leg at their Emirates Stadium on April 15.
However, the joy at getting the away goal will have been tempered by the news that first choice goalkeeper Manuel Almunia faces perhaps three weeks out with an ankle injury and France international defender William Gallas faces a lengthy absence after suffering a medial ligament injury.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was impressed by the quality of both sides and acknowledged that his side were not over the line yet as he bids to land the trophy for the first time.
"I am pleased with the quality we have shown added to the mental strength and desire we have shown. But we know Villarreal are a good team as well, so we will have to be on our toes in the second leg."
"The team has shown the whole season they are mentally very strong and when they have their backs to the wall, these young players always find the answer. I believe we have created momentum."
Adebayor was delighted to have made an impact after returning from injury.
"I wanted to do something good," he said adding, "I am very pleased and very happy. I don’t really know how I scored. We are delighted."
"Of course the injuries in the first half (to Almunia and Gallas) didn’t help our rhythm but Villarreal played really well, especially Senna and we came back well in the second-half."
Senna said that despite conceding the away goal Villarreal had far from given up hope.
"They are the favourites now because they have the away goal and home advantage for the next game," said Senna.
"However, we won’t be throwing in the towel and believe we can win at Arsenal."
Villarreal coach Manuel Pellegrini said his side deserved to win and that Arsenal were only slight favourites to progress.
"I think overall we did more than Arsenal. They had a good period of 20 minutes in the second half but we were superior in the first half and in the closing stages of the match," said Pellegrini.
"In theory they have a slight advantage but I still think the tie is 50-50."
In the opening minutes Almunia seemed to be struggling with an ankle knock after landing awkwardly and Villarreal almost took advantage of his poor mobility.
Joan Capdevila leapt highest to get his header on target only for Gael Clichy to clear the danger from the goal-line.
But Senna then produced a moment of genuine class in the 10th minute with a swerving right-footed shot that fizzed past Almunia.
Almunia finally gave up in the 28th minute as his ankle continued to hurt and the untested Pole Lukasz Fabianski, 23, was thrust into the biggest game of his life.
Fabianski was quickly called into action to stop a Senna drive and then a follow up effort from Capdevila.
Arsenal’s injury woes continued with the experienced Gallas forced off before the interval with Johan Djourou taking his place.
Arsenal took hold of the game in the second half and got a deserved equaliser on 65 minutes with Adebayor chesting a Cesc Fabregas pass on his chest before firing in a spectacular bicycle kick.
England international Theo Walcott went close for Arsenal, firing over from outside the area while Senna almost scored another screamer from long range.
Villarreal maintain their unbeaten record at home in the Champions League – four wins and seven draws – but will be annoyed at not having built on Senna’s opener.
The winner of this tie will face Manchester United or FC Porto – who drew 2-2 in Manchester – in the semi-finals of the competition.