Nicolas Pepe scored a precious away goal at Villarreal to keep our hopes of reaching the Europa League final alive despite defeat in Spain.
We had never previously lost to the ‘Yellow Submarine’ in Europe before, but our hopes were quickly submerged within five minutes of kick off as the hosts took the lead.
Samuel Chukwueze attacked makeshift left back Granit Xhaka in the box, and tried to squeeze past the Swiss international, only for the ball to break kindly for Manu Trigueros, who blasted the ball past Bernd Leno and in.
It was a real hammerblow, and just as we were slowly starting to work our way back into the game, Villarreal doubled their advantage as Raul Albiol volleyed in from close range after a corner.
Now we were right up against it, but we thought we had our way back into the tie when we were awarded a penalty when Nicolas Pepe was hauled down in the area – only for VAR to overturn it for a handball by the Ivorian in the build up.
The hosts were causing us problems, and could have added to their advantage when Gerard Moreno was played in behind the defence but, after rounding Leno, couldn’t control the ball and the chance was gone.
We started the second half with more impetus, and immediately Pepe had a half chance when a loose ball fell to him in the box but his first-time shot was blocked.
But just as we were building momentum, Dani Ceballos was sent off for a second bookable offence and our task became even greater.
Leno soon had to make a smart stop to deny Chukwueze, and then an even better save to push Moreno powerful shot from 10 yards out over the bar.
But just when it was starting to look like the tie was getting away from us, Bukayo Saka was tripped in the box and Pepe kept his composure to slot home from the spot.
Game – and tie – on.
It soon took another twist as former Tottenham midfielder Etienne Capoue was sent off for a second bookable offence after a wild tackle on Saka.
There was still time for one last chance, deep in injury time, but Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – on as a sub just minutes before – saw his shot saved, and that was that.
HOW IT HAPPENED
WHAT IT MEANS
We’re back at Emirates Stadium in a week for the second leg, trailing on aggregate but with an away goal – and potentially 90 minutes from a final in Gdansk.
We’re off to St James’ Park to face Newcastle in the Premier League, before we welcome Villarreal back to the Emirates for the second leg of our Europa League semi-final.
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