Unai Emery won his big reunion with Arsenal but 2-1 might prove a small reward for Villarreal, who failed to take advantage of Dani Ceballos being sent off in a frantic Europa League semi-final first leg on Thursday.
Manu Trigueros and Raul Albiol gave Villarreal a dream start at La Ceramica and the tie looked to be slipping away from Arsenal when Ceballos was shown a second yellow card early in the second half.
But 10-man Arsenal rallied and grabbed an away goal when Nicolas Pepe converted a penalty in the 73rd minute, before Villarreal’s Etienne Capoue also saw red with 10 minutes left to play.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang might even have snatched a late equaliser for the visitors but Mikel Arteta will be delighted his team are not just in the contest but in a healthy position too, with an away goal to take back to London next week.
For Villarreal, a chance was missed but the lead is still welcome and Emery will take comfort from the fact that they were the better side for the best part of an hour, even before Ceballos was dismissed.
Emery said on Wednesday he would always have a “place in his heart” for Arsenal, despite a turbulent 18 months in charge of the club before he was sacked in 2019.
He might also look on with little envy at his successor Arteta, who is under pressure now to win the Europa League and qualify for the Champions League, with Arsenal sitting 10th in the Premier League table and nowhere near the top four.