First-half goals from Manu Trigueros and Raúl Albiol earned Villarreal a first-leg win, although a Nicolas Pépé penalty has given the Gunners hope.
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Unai Emery's current side Villarreal got the better of his former club Arsenal in the first leg of their UEFA Europa League semi-final, although a second-half rally earned the English visitors a vital away goal.
Match in brief
The home side started the brighter and were rewarded within five minutes, Manu Trigueros following up to rifle in a low shot from the angle. Arsenal struggled to establish any rhythm and fell further behind before the half-hour when Raúl Albiol was allowed to get on the end of Gerard Moreno's flick to slam in from a corner.
Arsenal's woes deepened when Dani Ceballos picked up his second yellow card 12 minutes into the second half, but when Trigueros tripped Bukayo Saka they had a route back into the game, Nicolas Pépé firing in from the spot. Villarreal also ended with ten men, Étienne Capoue dismissed for a second booking, and it took a fine late save from Gerónimo Rulli to deny Arsenal substitute Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and seal victory.
Graham Hunter, Villarreal reporter
It's amazing what the desire for a trophy, even a much-longed-for final, can inspire. Villarreal continue to look pretty near their limits, but the Yellow Submarine felt like, at the very least, Arsenal's equal for large parts of this delightful match. What will decide this perhaps isn't who's the better team – it's who has the energy, commitment and desire to reach the final.
Samantha Miller, Arsenal reporter
Arsenal's slow start very nearly cost them this semi-final before it was a quarter old, two lapses of concentration at the back allowing the home side to take command. The Gunners were really up against it when Ceballos was dismissed but showed admirable spirit to force their way back into the tie. Aubameyang could even have levelled late on, but in the end Arsenal will have to be content with Pépé's vital away goal.
Unai Emery, Villarreal coach: "We had chances to score the third goal and that was our plan. We deserved this victory. We will play there with the same plan, to control and show our personality."
Manu Trigueros, Villarreal midfielder: "Arsenal get out of here still alive in the tie, but we should have put them out of it."
Mikel Arteta, Arsenal coach: "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. Two different halves. We started to be us; in the first half there were so many moments we weren't. In the second half it was completely different and we had a big chance with Auba to draw the game. I am confident we have a chance to win."
Bukayo Saka, Arsenal winger: "There are a lot of positives in the second half. It's a semi-final and to start the game like that... we didn't create anything, were passive, lost every duel. I'm happy in the second half we picked ourselves and have given ourselves a chance. We showed we are better than them, even with ten men, so it is up to us. When we play properly we can beat anyone."
- Trigueros scored his third goal in UEFA club competition – and his first since 2017 – in his 53rd appearance.
- Having also found the net against Dynamo Kyiv in the round of 16, Albiol has scored more than once in a European campaign for the first time.
- Arsenal have suffered their first away defeat in UEFA competition in 13 matches, ending their club-record unbeaten streak.
Villarreal: Rulli; Foyth (Gaspar 70), Albiol, Torres, Pedraza (Alberto Moreno 80); Parejo, Capoue, Trigueros (Gómez 80); Gerard Moreno, Alcácer (Coquelin 46), Chukwueze
Arsenal: Leno; Chambers, Holding, Pablo Marí, Xhaka; Ceballos, Partey; Smith Rowe (Elneny 90+5), Ødegaard (Martinelli 63), Saka (Aubameyang 85); Pépé (Willian 90+5)
The second leg takes place in London next Thursday. Before then, Arsenal travel to Newcastle in the Premier League and Villarreal host Getafe in Liga on Sunday.