Villarreal faced Arsenal at La Ceramica this evening in the first leg of their Europa League semi-final, going 2-0 up to ultimately win 2-1 in an intriguing game that saw three goals and two red cards, setting up the second leg in London perfectly.
The hosts are seventh in La Liga, having lost three of their last five domestic fixtures. The visitors are tenth in the Premier League, having won one of their last five. Unai Emery, a specialist in the Europa League with three titles under his belt from his time with Sevilla, will have been full of beans to face his former club.
Villarreal took the lead inside the fifth minute, with Manu Trigueros firing home. Raul Albiol doubled their advantage just shy of the half-hour mark, giving Mikel Arteta’s men a mountain to climb, only for things to go from bad to worse for the Englishmen when on-loan Real Madrid man Dani Ceballos saw red in the 57th minute.
The Londoners got a goal back soon after, however, when Nicolas Pepe converted from the penalty spot to cut the deficit to just one goal, and Villarreal were themselves reduced to ten men when Etienne Capoue saw red in the 80th minute, just-about hanging on to win.
“After going 2-0 up and having a good first half they pressed and we created chances to score a third goal,” Emery said post-match in comments carried by Mundo Deportivo. “With one man more we felt capable of giving that last push but the expulsion of Capoue levelled the game, and from then on we had to look for a goal without conceding.
“It’s true that the penalty wasn’t a penalty, and that hurt us a lot. It’s a very important refereeing error and also, with VAR, you can see it. We’ve developed a plan to take the victory and achieved it, although it’s unfair that it wasn’t a better result. But it’s a victory, and it allows us to continue in the second leg. We have to go there to score a goal.”