It was April 25, 2006 when Arsenal secured their biggest European result in the club’s history to reach their first ever Champions League final.
A dramatic finale to the second leg against Villarreal at the then-named El Madrigal on a warm Valencian evening sent Arsenal fans into hysteria, dreaming of what could be.
Jens Lehmann was the hero, saving a last-minute Juan Roman Riquelme penalty that would have taken the game to extra-time and given Villarreal an opportunity of their own to make what would have been their first-ever European final.
Thanks to the German keeper, it was Arsenal who progressed with Kolo Toure scoring the all-important winner in the first leg, in front of a packed Highbury and famously, even a squirrel.
But it was the second leg where the real damage was done, as Arsenal held out to book their place in the final, in the presence of a wildly celebrating Gunners away support and a young Pau Torres, who wiped tears from his face along with his heartbroken family and fellow ‘Groguets’, as Villarreal fans are known.
It was a once in a lifetime opportunity for Villarreal – or at least it felt like it – a club based in a town with a population of less than 51,000 who hadn’t even made Europe for the first time since 2002.
But it wasn’t to be, and since then, the Europa League has become their competition, the Yellow Submarine winning more games in Europe’s secondary tournament than any other club.
And as they reach a European semi-final for the fifth time in their history, a much older Torres, and many of his fellow villagers are eyeing revenge.
Arsenal and Villarreal will meet again in the semi-finals of a European competition after both sides did their part to set up the tie on Thursday evening, the Gunners cruising past Slavia Prague and the Yellows against Dinamo Zagreb.
The two clubs have met since, a quarter-final tie in 2009 which saw Arsenal come out on top, but never at this stage, with a final on the line.
And you can bet every Villarreal fan still feels the sting of that fateful evening in 2006.
Even Torres, the man linked with a £60million move to the likes of Liverpool, Manchester United or Real Madrid, the defender who will likely start for Spain at Euro 2020 this summer.
Now 24, he is now one of the most talented defenders in European football, but at heart, he’s Villarreal through and through having grown up in the town of Vila-real before rising through the club’s youth ranks.
“I was at the stadium with my family for the semi-final in 2006, I cried when the game finished,” he said when asked about the prospect of facing Arsenal after helping his side defeat Zagreb.
“I was in the South Corner where, unfortunately, we just have cardboard figures,” he added.
And speaking about his ‘hometown club’, he recalls: “I have photos with almost all my Capdevilla shirts, Forlan. I am proud to fighting for us to reach the final.”
The desire for revenge on the back of a painful result is nothing new in football, but Villarreal are a club connected to its local town in a way few others are.
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And while few others are as local as Torres, no fewer than 11 of the 26-man squad Unai Emery has at his disposal this season have come through the academy system, all dreaming of going one step further than the likes of club legends Riquelme and Forlan, of bringing the Castellon club its first-ever major trophy.
And the challenge Arsenal face as they attempt to secure European qualification via the only route left to them this season is to overcome that desire their rivals will have to put old ghosts to bed, to reach the final and in almost poetic fashion.
Arsenal have Lehmann, Thierry Henry, Kolo Toure and other legends of their past to thank for that added challenge, but it’s not one they should underestimate, particularly not in cup football when, as Dinamo Zagreb showed Tottenham, desire is nine-tenths of the law.