Arsenal are on the edge of been knocked out of this season's Europa league, following their 2-1 loss to Villarreal in the first leg of their semifinal clash on Thursday night.

The Spanish giants who are currently managed by immediate past Arsenal manager, Unai Emery secured the victory courtesy of goals from Manu Trigueros and Raul Albiol while Nicholas Pepe gave Arsenal the important away goal from the penalty spot.

Unai Emery went into the game as the most successful manager in the competition's history, having won it three times in a row with Sevilla between 2014 and 2016, and also guided Arsenal to the final in Baku, Azerbaijan in 2019 where they lost 4-1 to Chelsea.


Arsenal were without in-form striker, Alexandre Lacazette who has missed their last game against Everton through injury and Mikel Arteta opted to go the way of his former boss, Pep Guardiola as he started with no known striker, but Emile Smith Rowe in the false nine position. Pierre Emerick Aubameyang, Eddie Nketiah and Gabriel Martinelli the other striking options, all started from the bench.

It would only take the Submarines five minutes of the game to take the lead. Samuel Chukwueze made a dazzling run down the right side of the attack which still has Granit Xhaka deputizing in the left-back role. The Arsenal defence took the ball off the Nigerian, but it fell fortunately to on-rushing Trigueros who fired a low shot into the left bottom corner.

Arsenal continued to dominate possession as is their custom but lacked the cutting edge to create clear cut chances in what was a disappointing first half of the game. Arteta admitted in his post-match conference that his team were not themselves in the first half.

Villarreal would double their lead before the half hour mark through Raul Albiol. The former Real Madrid defender was left unmarked by Thomas Partey at the far post when a Dani Parejo corner kick from the left side was flicked on by Gerard Moreno for Albiol to fire home at the far post.

Arsenal kept pushing and had a comeback lifeline in the 34th minute when Juan Foyth brought down Nicholas Pepe right inside the penalty area. VAR, however, overturned the decision of the referee as it was adjudged that Pepe had handled the ball while controlling the long-range pass from Granit Xhaka.

The hosts should have taken the game beyond Arsenal's reach with two minutes of the first half to play. After been let off the penalty hook, Foyth made a fine run, skipping through a couple of Arsenal players before feeding the ball to Moreno who rounded Arsenal goalkeeper, Bernd Leno, but ran out of space to convert the opportunity.

Arsenal trailed by two goals into the interval.

In an instant response after the break, Arsenal almost pulled one back in the 48th minute after Villarreal failed to clear their lines. The ball fell to Pepe, but his shot across the face of goal was well cleared by Albiol.

The Gunners headache went from bad to worse in the 57th minute when Dani Ceballos was sent off for a second bookable offence. The aftermath of which saw Arsenal's players protest the decision and Dani Ceballos refusing to leave the pitch and opted to sit in the stands instead. Partey was also booked in the process as the Gunners appealed the decision. It wasn't going to be.

The visitors have Leno to thank for keeping their hopes alive in the game as the German stopper denied Chukwueze's curling effort, first in the 61st minute, before tipping Moreno's effort over, five minutes later.

Mikel Arteta's men got the vital away goal through a controversial penalty in the 71st minutes. Bukayo Saka came down in the 18-yard box after contact with Trigueros. Replay from several angles showed that the contact was too soft, but the referee's decision stood after consultation with the Video Assistant Referee (VAR).


Villarreal were also reduced to ten men after Etienne Capoue received two yellow cards in the space of 13 minutes. The former Spurs and Watford midfielder first got carded in the 67th minute after his high arm caught Pepe in the face, before colliding with Saka in the 79th minute, one that saw the two players needing treatment and Capoue eventually stretched off the pitch.

A last-ditch opportunity to tie the game was spurned by Arsenal after Pierre Emerick Aubameyang who replaced Saka with five minutes of the game to go, received a trademark defence-splitting pass from Partey. The Arsenal captain took the ball in his strides to beat his marker, Albiol, but slipped as he tried to take a shot past Gero Rulli in goal, allowing the keeper to make a save.

Concluding Thoughts

Despite a disappointing first half for Arsenal, the English side were the better side on the night but poor decisions and markings cost them dearly.

Accusing fingers also point to Mikel Arteta for choosing not to start a striker in a semifinal clash when he had three options on the bench.

The tie is Villarreal's to lose as they know they need to score at least one goal and make life difficult for Arsenal in the second leg.

Arsenal have all their lives to fight for as the Europa League is their only chance of getting into Europe next season and salvage what has been one of the worst seasons in their history.