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Arsenal Defeated By Villarreal In First Leg Tie

Sloppy in defence and largely without a plan

in attack, for long spells this was an

performance that would have felt

rather familiar to . Their former

head coach oversaw plenty of these matches

during the final months of his reign in north

, and for more than an hour he inflicted

another one upon in this Europa

League semi-final.

With trailing by two goals, and

reduced to 10 following the dismissal of

Dani Ceballos, it looked as if Emery was about

to bring an end to their hopes of turning this

season into an unlikely success. The master of

the has a knack for winning

these sorts of knockout ties, even if his

side do not.

Such is the dramatic of

football, though, that these two-legged clashes

swing on just a few pivotal moments. Mikel

Arteta’s team regularly veer between

disastrous and devastating, sometimes within

the same match, and after such a poor start

they fought back to score a crucial away goal,

out of nothing, in .

’s second-half penalty, won by the

brilliance of Bukayo Saka, restored belief to

and meant that this tie is still there for

the taking next week. Manu Trigueros and Raul

Albiol had scored early for but

Emery’s team could not build on that

advantage, as Etienne Capoue soon joined

Ceballos in being shown two yellow cards.

Despite the defeat, the overriding emotion for

will be relief. They were so poor in the

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first hour that might have run away

with it before the visitors had landed their first

meaningful blow. “After the way the game

developed, you have to take the result,” said

Arteta. “If you have to lose, it is probably the

best result we could have.”

Perhaps Emery has to take some blame for

’s failure to put the tie beyond

’s reach: at half-time he replaced a

striker with a defensive midfielder, stripping

his team of their momentum.

surely cannot play so poorly, for so

long, in the second leg. Then again, knows

what this erratic team will produce next? “It is

up to us,” said Saka. “It is always up to us. We

gave ourselves a chance at the .”

If anything, actually improved after

Ceballos had been sent off. When a team

reaches such depths on occasions as significant

as this, the only way is up. Sometimes that

be a liberating feeling, and it was once again

the enthusiasm of youth that helped them to

recover, with Saka leading the way.

A word too for Pepe, much-maligned since he

joined the club for £72 million during Emery’s

tenure. Emery has since said that he wanted

Wilfried Zaha instead, so this made for a

pointed riposte from ’s winger. As well

as the goal, Pepe was arguably ’s most

dangerous forward throughout.

will no doubt pose more of an

attacking threat in the second leg, when they

should have one of or

, or both, fit to

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start. Aubameyang is still recovering from

malaria but he came off the bench at the

Estadio de la Ceramica and almost struck a late

equaliser in the final minutes.

“Two different halves,” was Arteta’s

assessment. “In the second half we started to

be us, in the first half there were so many

moments when we weren’t. We were not

precise with the ball and did not have enough

control. In the second half it was completely

different.”

Crucially, might also have Kieran

Tierney available next week. Granit once

again filled in at left-back, and he was targeted

from the off. Emery knows well that

does not like to be dribbled at, because he saw

it so often himself during his time in north

. It was therefore no surprise to see

Samuel Chukwueze, ’s tricky winger,

charging down ’s left flank after five

minutes.

Neither nor Ceballos were able to make

a proper challenge, with the ball ultimately

falling to Trigueros. His finish was firm and

accurate, scorching past the diving .

The second came after nearly half an hour had

been played, with the defence

completely motionless from a corner.

A simple inswinging corner was attacked by

Gerard Moreno, and then tapped in by Albiol at

the back post.

Despair was setting in, and it got so much

worse for when Ceballos committed his

second foolish challenge and was sent off.

The sense of anger towards the officials was

then felt by . Saka dribbled into the

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penalty box, running at the yellow shirts, and

went down under a challenge from Trigueros.

“How that be a penalty?’” said Emery. “Var

has to intervene.”

Pepe converted and the dynamic changed.

Before then, Leno had produced a sensational

stop to deny Moreno. Had the striker

scored, there would have been no way back for

. Instead, Capoue’s red card made it 10

against 10, and Aubameyang almost struck at

the end.

The captain could not finish his one

clear chance, but there should be more of

those next week. “We are alive,” said Arteta.

Game on.

 

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