Nicolas Pepe’s penalty provided a Europa League lifeline for 10-man Arsenal as they were beaten 2-1 by Unai Emery’s Villarreal in a dramatic semi-final first leg in Spain.
Arsenal endured a dismal first half at Estadio de la Ceramica as poor defending allowed Manuel Trigueros to smash home from inside the box (5), before an unmarked Raul Albiol doubled Villarreal’s lead from close range following a corner (29).
Arsenal were second best to their former manager’s side and their hopes of reaching the final appeared in even greater doubt when Dani Ceballos was shown a second yellow card for planting his studs on Villarreal’s Dani Parejo early in the second half.
But the Gunners were handed a scarcely-deserved route back into the tie when Bukayo Saka was tripped by Trigueros to win a penalty, with Pepe dispatching the spot kick down the middle (73).
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Villarreal then went down to 10 men themselves for the final 10 minutes as former Watford midfielder Etienne Capoue went in late on Saka to earn his second yellow card.
Arsenal had been forced to start the game without a recognised striker due to injuries, but they almost salvaged an unlikely draw when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who was only fit enough for the bench following his bout of malaria, forced a stoppage-time save from Villarreal goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli.
A 2-1 loss, however, will feel like a positive result for Mikel Arteta’s side on a night that at times threatened to wreck their Europa League hopes altogether.
Full match report to follow…
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