Arsenal had endured a dismal first half at Estadio de la Ceramica as poor defending allowed Manuel Trigueros to smash home from inside the box (5), before an unmarked Raul Albiol doubled Villarreal’s lead from close range following a corner (29).
Although the gunners side were second best to their former manager’s side and their hopes of reaching the final appeared in even greater doubt when Dani Ceballos was shown a second yellow card for planting his studs on Villarreal’s Dani Parejo early in the second half.
But the Gunners were handed a scarcely-deserved route back into the tie when Bukayo Saka was tripped by Trigueros to win a penalty, with Pepe, who had been denied a spot kick earlier in the game due to a handball picked up by VAR, holding his nerve (73).
However, Villarreal then went down to 10 men themselves for the final 10 minutes as former Watford midfielder Etienne Capoue went in late on Saka to earn his second yellow card.
Mikel Arteta had opted to start the game without a recognized striker due to injuries, but Arsenal almost salvaged an unlikely draw when substitute Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who was only fit enough for the bench following his bout of malaria, was denied by Villarreal goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli in stoppage time.
Meanwhile, a 2-1 loss, however, is a far better result than Arsenal’s overall performance deserved and the opportunity is now there for them to go on a claim a place in the final in next week’s second leg.