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Lively Pepe avoids disaster after Arsenal, Villarreal sees red in chaotic clash

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Nicolas Pepe scored a crucial away goal to leave Arsenal’s Europa League semi-final game with Villarreal hanging in the balance.

Arsenal knew the Europa League was their last realistic hope of securing a Champions League spot next season. If that wasn’t enough, the sight of former Gunners boss Unai Emery in the opposition dugout has raised the stakes even further.

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Mikel Arteta would have hoped for a steady start, but was about to wake up abruptly within six minutes.

Samuel Chukwueze was cleared to run at the retreating Granit Xhaka inside the zone before the ball fell to Manu Trigueros. Stepping on the ball, the midfielder hit a soft first shot and past Bernd Leno to put Arsenal behind.

Arsenal reacted well, quickly gaining the front foot and causing problems thanks to Nicolas Pepe on the left. Martin Odegaard was also finding his marks, intriguing in central areas seeking to unlock Villarrealthe stern defense of.

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The Norwegian managed to spot Bukayo Saka in a dangerous position, but the young forward was lacking in composure, blazing with a curling effort.

As the visitors increased the pressure, the yellow sub punched veteran center-half Raul Albiol.

Soft marking allowed for a free header from a corner, with the ball touching a Villarreal shoulder to Albiol at the far post. The 35-year-old passed behind Thomas Partey and doubled the hosts’ advantage with a simple finish from close range.

Hope returned after Arsenal received a penalty after the lively Pepe was shot down. Villarreal The protests for a handball in preparation were fierce and proved to be justified when VAR overturned the decision after Pepe managed to control the ball from above.

Any chance of an Arsenal fight took a hard hit from the inside when Dani Ceballos saw red shortly after the break.

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The Spaniard received his second booking after making contact with Dani Parejo’s ankle after the Spaniard collapsed in a sliding challenge.

Arteta mixed his pack with Gabriel Martinelli’s introduction for Odegaard. With half an hour to go, Arsenal desperately needed a lifeline.

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Gerard Moreno came close to adding a third after Arsenal’s center halves were caught napping, but Leno was on hand to pass the powerful strike over the bar.

The importance of this safeguard would be magnified moments later when Saka led to the Villarreal defense and took a penalty from Trigueros.

Pepe got on the spot and was right, coldly placing the ball in the middle after the goalkeeper dove to his right.

The tide was turning when former Tottenham midfielder Etienne Capoue slashed VillarrealThe man ‘s advantage after receiving his second yellow card. The Frenchman collided with Saka and got out the worst for the dishes after leaving the field on a stretcher.

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With the numbers even and both sides seemingly happy with the score, the pace and intensity dropped significantly in the finals.

Substitute Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang missed a glorious chance to level the scores late, but shot his effort straight at the goalkeeper, much to Arteta’s chagrin on the sideline.

Ultimately, Villarreal emerged with a 2-1 win on the night, although with Pepe’s vital away goal Arsenal will be hoping for their chances in the second leg next week.


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