Villarreal claimed a narrow advantage in their Europa League semifinal against Arsenal with a 2-1 home victory in the first leg on Thursday, although they will feel frustrated at letting the London club off the hook.
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First-half goals by Manu Trigueros and Raul Albiol put the Spanish club in command and it looked bleak for the visitors when Dani Ceballos was sent off just before the hour mark.
Arsenal were rocking and needed keeper Bernd Leno to avoid them slipping further behind but they were thrown a lifeline when Nicolas Pepe converted a 73rd-minute penalty.
A chaotic game took another twist as Villarreal were also reduced to 10 men when former Tottenham Hotspur player Etienne Capoue received a second yellow card.
Arsenal had one final clear chance but substitute Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s attempt from inside the area was saved by Villarreal goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli.
“In the end we allowed them to stay alive,” Trigueros said after the match. “We won, but looking at the match we should have done better. They leave with a bigger prize than they deserved.”
Villarreal, coached by former Arsenal manager and Europe League specialist Unai Emery, maintained their 100% home record in the competition this season. He is in his first season with Villarreal after being fired by the English club in November 2019. Emery has thrived in the Europa League, having led Sevilla FC to three straight titles from 2014-16.
“We had chances to score the third goal and that was our plan. The penalty is not a penalty and we deserved this victory,” Emery said. “We will play there with the same plan, to control and show our personality.”
But the tie remains delicately balanced ahead of next week’s return in London.
“We didn’t want to come here and lose but after the way the game developed, you have to take the result. If you have to lose it is probably the best result we could have,” Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta said.
“Two different halves. We started to be us, in the first half there were so many moments we weren’t.”
Arsenal are trying to return to the Europa League final for the second time in three years after losing the title to Chelsea in 2019 while under Emery’s command. That final was one of the highlights of the Spanish coach during his turbulent 18 months with Arsenal.
“There are a lot of positives in the second half, it’s a semifinal and to start the game like that,” Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka told BT Sport. “We didn’t create anything, were passive, lost every duel. I’m happy in the second half we picked ourselves and have given us a chance at the Emirates.
“We showed we are better than them, even with 10 men, so it is up to us. When we play properly we can beat anyone.”
Villarreal are making their fifth attempt to reach a European final, having failed on all previous occasions, including against Arsenal in the 2006 Champions League and against Liverpool in the 2016 Europa League.