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UEL: Arsenal suffer semi-final first leg blow after Villarreal defeat

Nicolas Pepe’s second-half penalty gave ten-man Arsenal a lifeline in their Europa League semi-final after a testing 2-1 first-leg defeat to Unai Emery’s Villarreal in Spain.

Arsenal may have been tidy on the ball throughout the first-half, but defensively the visitors were all over the place, making on-loan Spurs defender Juan Foyth look like a prime Cafu as he repeatedly marauded forward from right-back.

Those defensive issues, caused partially by having Granit Xhaka in an unfamiliar position at full-back, were exposed when Villarreal opened the scoring after just five minutes through Many Trigueros.

The hosts kept on causing problems throughout the first 45, adding a second goal through the un-marked Raul Albion from a corner, and could easily have bagged more. But there were some glimmers of hope for Arsenal, a penalty decision overturned by VAR for a Pepe handball showing that the home side were also vulnerable at the back.

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The disappointing Ceballos didn’t make things straightforward for Arsenal when he picked up a second yellow on 57 minutes to leave the visitors down to ten men. But VAR didn’t intervene when Saka went down in the box on, Pepe scoring an away goal from the spot to give the Gunners a lifeline in the tie.

A second yellow for Etienne Capoue, who was bizarrely shown his red card while being carried from the field on a stretcher after injuring himself in the process of making a foul, meant that the game ended 10 vs 10. But no further goals mean that Arsenal are still very much in this tie after a performance. that could have yielded a far worse outcome.

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