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Arsenal nearly sunk by Yellow Submarine – but they’re still in Europa League tie – John Cross


This must go down as the great escape.

Quite how Arsenal finished the night still in the tie, still with a chance of reaching next month’s final, is anyone’s guess.

It was a rollercoaster night of sheer chaos for Arsenal when they were so nearly sunk by Villarreal’s yellow submarines – and yet got so lucky.

Make no mistake, they were heading out, 2-0 down and an utter shambles with Dani Ceballos also getting his marching orders for two yellow cards as things went from bad to worse.

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You would never know it was the biggest match of Arsenal’s season, the game which could save their whole year and get them back into the Champions League.

Nicolas Pepe scored a vital away goal for Arsenal
Nicolas Pepe scored a vital away goal for Arsenal

Mikel Arteta got his tactics all wrong, was given a proper schooling by his predecessor Unai Emery who was sacked by Arsenal after too many performances like this.

Arteta tried to be too clever, got it all wrong, saw his team got taken to pieces and Villarreal will know they missed a great chance to put the tie to bed.

Granit Xhaka was ripped to shreds as a makeshift left back, Emile Smith-Rowe was lost as a false nine even though Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was fit enough to be a substitute and even nearly nicked an injury time equaliser.

The scoreline now gives Arsenal a genuine chance because Nicolas Pepe’s late penalty gives them an away goal and a 1-0 win at the Emirates next week will be enough to see them into the final.

Arsenal being able to keep a clean sheet is quite another matter but this is a lifeline for Arteta because to lose to Emery would have raised serious doubts.

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Villarreal netted twice against the Gunners on Thursday night
Villarreal netted twice against the Gunners on Thursday night

Nights like these will leave Arsenal fans wondering whether Arteta is the right man to lead the club as his win ratio is actually marginally worse than Emery’s.

Arsenal went behind after just five minutes when their left flank was left wide open. Samuel Chukwueze stormed into the box, Xhaka stood off and the ball broke to Manu Trigueros who smashed a shot into the bottom corner.

The second goal after 29 minutes was just as bad. Dani Parejo put over a corner, Gerard Moreno flicked on and 35-year-old defender Raúl Albiol smashed home at the back post.

Arsenal were so bad down the left they made Villarreal right back Juan Foyth, on loan from Spurs, look like Cafu. But Foyth got lucky after Arsenal were given a penalty for a trip on Pepe only for VAR to overrule the decision for a handball in the build-up.

It got even worse for Arsenal as Ceballos, on a yellow from the first half, got another – albeit a harsh one – for catching Parejo in the 57th minute.

Then Arsenal got lucky. Trigerous tripped Bukayo Saka who went tumbling. Pepe stepped up and slammed home the 73rd minute penalty down the middle to give Arsenal hope.

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Villarreal finished the game themselves with ten men as ex-Spurs midfielder Etienne Capoue was sent off for a second yellow to leave Arsenal knowing they had a major let-off.





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