Sports Desk, Apr 29 (EFE).- Villarreal squandered an opportunity Thursday to take a commanding lead over Arsenal in their Europa League semifinal tie, allowing the Gunners to snatch what could prove to be a crucial away goal and escape with a 2-1 loss.
While Arsenal had more of the ball, the hosts were much the better side in the first half, taking the lead in the 5th minute on their first offensive foray of the night.
Samuel Chukwueze charged into the box and though an Arsenal defender poked the ball away before he could shoot, Manu Trigueros was there to hammer it into the bottom corner.
Unai Emery’s squad extended the lead in the 29th minute. Gerard Moreno nudged a Dani Parejo header to Raul Albiol, unmarked at the far post, for the easy goal.
Arsenal were poised to claw one back after the referee awarded a penalty after Nicolas Pepe went down in the box in a tangle with Villarreal’s Juan Foyth.
VAR, however, detected a hand ball by Pepe before the foul and the penalty was taken off.
Moreno ran himself out of a shooting position trying to make it 3-0 in the 43rd minute after getting around Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno.
The author of the second Villarreal goal, Albiol, blocked a dangerous effort from Pepe early in the second half.
As the game was approaching the hour mark, Arsenal’s Dani Ceballos picked up a second yellow card and was sent off.
The man advantage allowed the home side to recover possession and push for more goals to secure their spot in the final.
Leno, however, made good stops against Chukwueze and Moreno and the next plot turn favored the Gunners, who finally got their opportunity from the penalty spot in the 72nd minute after Trigueros tripped Bukayo Saka.
Pepe converted to halve the deficit.
With 10 minutes left, Villarreal were reduced to 10 men after Etienne Capoue saw a second yellow card.
Seeking to make the most of the opening, Arsenal coach sent Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang into the fray and the striker nearly equalized on the final kick of the game.
The result had to be a disappointment to Emery, who guided Sevilla to three consecutive Europa League titles and would have preferred to have a bigger advantage when he returns to the Emirates – where he spent a little more than a year as Arsenal’s coach – next week for the second leg. EFE