MADRID – Villarreal’s first-ever cup final appearance is still in doubt after they beat Arsenal 2-1 at home in the first leg of their Europa League semifinals on Thursday night.
The Spanish side was leading 2-0 with Arsenal reduced to 10 men after Dani Ceballos had been sent off in the 57th minute for his second yellow card.
In the 71st minute, Manu Trigueros was slightly harshly penalized for a challenge on Bukayo Saka, and Nicolas Pepe slotted home from the spot to gift Arsenal an away goal.
The game presented Villarreal coach Unai Emery with the perfect chance to take revenge for his sacking from Arsenal in November 2019 and things looked to be going perfectly for his current side as they raced into a 2-0 lead by the 28th minute.
Trigueros opened the scoring after just four minutes after Samuel Chukwueze beat two defenders near the goal-line to pull the ball back for him to pick his spot.
Albiol doubled the lead in the 28th minute, scoring from close range at the far post following a corner after Gerard Moreno had got a touch from a corner. Moreno went close soon after and Bernd Leno saved from Paco Alcacer as Villarreal remained on top.
Villarreal’s task looked to be even easier in the 57th minute when Ceballos was sent off for a second booking and Chukwueze implied a third goal wasn’t far away when he forced Leno into action once again.
However, Trigueros’ foul on Saka allowed Pepe (who had had an earlier penalty appeal ruled out by the VAR for a previous handball) to net a valuable away goal for Arsenal and it was 10 against 10 for the closing minutes after Villarreal midfielder Etienne Capoue was also sent off for two yellow cards.
The result leaves the tie wide open for next week.