Nicolas Pepe’s second-half penalty gave Arsenal hope of reaching the 2020-21 UEFA Europa League final despite a first-leg loss at Villarreal in the semifinal.

With the Gunners trailing 2-0 and a man down following Dani Ceballos’ sending off in the 57th minute, Pepe stepped up and put away a crucial away goal from the penalty spot after Bukayo Saka had been tripped in the box.

This gives Mikel Arteta’s side hope going into next Thursday’s second leg with a chngance of reaching a second Europa League final in three seasons.

Arsenal’s only hope of qualifying for next season’s Champions League is by winning the Europa League as they sit in 10th place in the Premier League behind their fellow “Big 6” opposition, Leicester City, West Ham United, Everton and Leeds United.

It looked like there was no coming back from this defeat when Manu Trigueros Munoz opened the scoring for the home side after just 5 minutes before Raul Albiol slammed home at the back post following a corner kick routine in the 29th minute.

Things went from bad to worse as Dani Ceballos was shown a red card with over 30 minutes to play, courtesy of a second booking for standing on the boot of Daniel Parejo.

However, German goalkeeper Bernd Leno produced two top saves for Arsenal to keep their hopes alive before Ivorian Pepe – playing as a false nine – finally managed to grab a goal for the Gunners.

Etienne Capoue was also shown a second yellow in the 80th minute for a late tackle on Saka as Unai Emery’s men could not capitalise on being a man up.


Raul Albiol celebrates after scoring Villarreal’s second goal. (Photo by MB Media/Getty Images)

Villarreal remains unbeaten in Europe this season. Manchester City is the only other team that is unbeaten as well.

The ‘Yellow Submarine’, managed by ex-Arsenal boss Unai Emery, will go into the second leg with a slight advantage, but know the risk that the away goal rule runs.

Villarreal will need a goal just to make sure that they can face what looks like, is going to be Manchester United in the final of this season’s Europa League after United demolished Roma 6-2 in the first leg at Old Trafford.

Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta said: “We didn’t want to come here and lose but after the way the game developed, you have to take the result. If you have to lose it is probably the best result we could have.

“Two different halves. We started to be us, in the first half there were so many moments we weren’t.

“We started to chase and were not precise with the ball, didn’t have enough control. We didn’t have enough threat or desire to attack the box, in the second half it was completely different.

“We are very used to that (Bukayo Saka playing well) this season, but it tells us we need to do much more as we cannot always rely on him. Bernd Leno was very good, at 2-0, the chance with Gerard Moreno, he saved us.

“I am confident we have a chance to win.”

Arsenal face Newcastle in the Premier League this Sunday before their stern test at the Emirates against their former manager’s side.