Unai Emery won the first battle against his former club as Villarreal beat Arsenal 2-1 in the first leg of the Europa League semi-finals.
Manu Trigeros and Raul Albiol scored in the first half to give the Spanish club an advantage before next week’s rematch in London. The English side pulled closer with a penalty kick taken by Nicolas Pepe in the 73rd on Thursday.
“We played a good game,” Emery said. “It’s a little unfair that we didn’t get a better result, but it’s still a victory and we will try to finish the job in the second game.” Arsenal received an important away game while playing with 10 men, as Danny Chebalos was sent off with a second yellow card in the 57th. Villarreal then sent off midfielder Etienne Capua with a second reservation in the 80’s.
“In the end, we allowed them to stay alive,” Trigeros said.
“We won, but watching the match, we had to do better. They leave with a greater reward than they deserve. ”
Villarreal are making their fifth attempt to reach the European final, failing on all previous occasions, including against Arsenal in the Champions League in 2006 and against Liverpool in the Europa League in 2016.
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.
This final was one of the most important moments of the Spanish coach during his turbulent 18 months with Arsenal. He is in his first season with Villarreal after being sacked by the English club in November 2019.
Emery thrived in the Europa League, leading Sevilla to three consecutive titles from 2014-16.
At the Cerâmica stadium there were few significant chances to score, but the hosts took advantage of their opportunities in the first half.
Villarreal opened the scoring five minutes into the match as Trigeros found the net with a low shot from inside the zone after Arsenal’s defense failed to clear the ball inside the zone.
Villarreal increased the lead with Albiol, who scored close in a corner kick in the 29th. The defender found the net after striker Gerard Moreno deflected the cross from a corner to the far post.
Pepe’s goal came after a controversial penalty, as Trigeros was sentenced to stumble Bukayo Saka.
“Clearly this is not a penalty,” Emery said.
“Maybe they didn’t want to cancel another penalty after what happened in the first half. Punishment really hurt us. “
Arsenal, led by Spanish coach Mikel Arteta, thought he had taken a penalty kick at the end of the first half, but the call was reversed after a video review showed Pepe had handball before the foul.
Arsenal’s hopes of reuniting seemed to be dashed when Sebalos was sent off to kick Villarreal playmaker Danny Parejo as he tried to win the ball. But then Capoue was sent off for a foul by Saka. The Villarreal player was injured during the same incident and had to leave the pitch on a stretcher.
“After the way the game goes, you have to get the result,” Arteta said.
Moreno almost added the third goal for the hosts less than 10 minutes after the expulsion of Chebalos, but his shot from close range was brilliantly saved by Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno.
Arsenal had one last clear chance, but the attempt to replace Pierre-Emerick Abumeyang from inside the zone was saved by Villarreal goalkeeper Geronimo Rully.
“There were a lot of positives in the second half,” Saka said.
“We gave ourselves a chance at home.”