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Football Reporting


Villarreal 2-1 Arsenal: 5 talking points as Gunners leave Spain with semi-final lifeline

Arsenal will return to the Emirates with a vital away goal despite going down to Villarreal in the first-leg of their Europa League semi-final.

The Gunners will have been fearing the worst when the Spanish side went in at the break 2-0 up and with the wind in their sails.

Mikel Arteta watched on as things went from bad to worse as Dani Ceballos was given his marching orders.

It was all falling into place for Unai Emery, who no doubt was keen to get one over on his former employers.

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But Nicolas Pepe’s second-half penalty means it is all to play for in north London next week as Villarreal too finished with ten men after an action-packed second 45.

Here are five talking points from Spain.

Nicolas Pepe grabbed an away goal for Arsenal
Nicolas Pepe grabbed an away goal for Arsenal

1. Emery edges out Arteta

The narrative was set. The man Arsenal axed against the man they trusted with the rebuild.

Emery was given his marching orders at the Emirates just shy of 18 months ago but was given a chance to remind his former employers that he remains a man in the know.

The Spaniard is highly regarded in his homeland and has used the Europa League to further his profile.

Emery has three successes in the tournament and excels in the knockout format. His failed Arsenal stint is a black mark on what is a largely impressive CV and he again underlined his credentials.

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His Villarreal side have the upper hand, but the tie remains in the balance ahead of next week’s Emirates contest.

2. Hope restored

At 2-0 down and one man down things were looking desperate for Arsenal.

The Gunners had periods where they were on top but struggled to take advantage of those. The introduction of Gabriel Martinelli as a recognised striker certainly made a difference.

But Pepe’s penalty handed Arsenal a vital away goal and means their task next week is that much easier.

Arteta’s side could’ve been all but out before they scored from the spot as Bernd Leno made several big saves.

Villarreal were certainly deserving winners, but a one-goal margin means it is all to play for.

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Raul Albiol doubled Villarreal's lead
Raul Albiol doubled Villarreal’s lead

3. An avoidable scenario

Arsenal’s task was hard enough at half-time when they went in two goals down.

A talking to no doubt led to their improved showing for the first ten minutes of the second-half, that was until Ceballos was given his marching orders.

The midfielder, already on a yellow, stood on Dani Parejo and was given his marching orders. Arteta stood on the touchline furious with his head in his hands.

Ultimately though the Arsenal boss must shoulder some of the blame knowing Ceballos was on the edge. With options on the bench he could’ve made a switch but chose not to.

If you run the risk you cannot bemoan the outcome.

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Dani Ceballos was dismissed in the second-half
Dani Ceballos was dismissed in the second-half

4. A false false 9

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Gabriel Martinelli and Eddie Nketiah all started on the bench at El Madrigal.

Arteta opted to start without a recognised centre forward but could not replicate the success of his teacher, Pep Guardiola, who has utilised the system to devastating effect.

Emile Smith Rowe often found himself as the most advanced of Arsenal’s front four with Pepe again given a chance.

The Gunners had brief periods where they look threatening, but the lack of a recognised striker seemed to leave them lacking in ideas when they reached the final third.

Martinelli”s second-half arrival and subsequent impact suggests he, or any striker for that matter, should’ve been in from the start.

5. Oh so Arsenal

Arteta was dealt a horror hand at the Emirates and has set about changing the culture of the club.

He’s looked to implement a clear philosophy and has bought with him a toughness that the Gunners have lacked.

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Difficult decisions have been made and for the early part of his tenure Arsenal’s performances led to a sense of optimism, even if the results didn’t.

But in recent months the displays have been aligned with some terrible results. Their opening 45 minutes in Spain wouldn’t have looked out of place in the late Wenger era or the late Emery era.

Yes Arteta has lots to work and yes he needs time, but performances like the one we saw in the first-half should’ve been ridded of along time ago.

A second-half bounce, a red card and a glimmer of hope is also nothing new when it comes to the Arsenal story.

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