Villarreal 2-1 Arsenal: Emery's men hold slender advantage after action-packed Europa League semi

By Sports Desk April 29, 2021

Unai Emery saw Villarreal claim a 2-1 advantage over former club Arsenal after an eventful first leg of their Europa League semi-final clash that saw both teams finish with 10 men.

Emery, who was dismissed by the Gunners in November 2019 after a poor run of form, watched on as Villarreal seized control thanks to first-half goals from Manu Trigueros and Raul Albiol.

Dani Ceballos' sending off only appeared to strengthen the hosts' hand, but Nicolas Pepe's spot-kick in the 73rd minute breathed fresh life into a contest that looked in danger of getting away from Mikel Arteta's team.

Former Tottenham midfielder Etienne Capoue then also saw red in a tie that is deliciously poised ahead of next week's return meeting.

Villarreal scored with the first effort of the game, Trigueros drilling home after Samuel Chukwueze's jinking run ended with the ball being tackled into his team-mate's path.

Shoddy Arsenal defending saw the lead doubled just prior to the half-hour mark when Gerard Moreno flicked on Dani Parejo's corner for Raul Albiol to volley home from close range.

Juan Foyth was excelling going forward but encountered problems against Pepe defensively and only a VAR check for handball in the build-up saved the defender from a penalty call going against him for a trip in the area.

Arsenal started the second half on the front foot but their outing worsened when Ceballos, already on a yellow card, was dismissed for a late challenge on Parejo.

Bernd Leno was called into action to deny the excellent Moreno and that moment proved even more pivotal when Trigueros clumsily tripped Bukayo Saka, Pepe's penalty sent down the middle and just past Geronimo Rulli.

There was even more room for optimism when Capoue hacked down Saka and was dismissed while leaving the field on a stretcher, but Villarreal clung on for a precious win despite returning captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang testing Rulli deep into added time.

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    The New Orleans Saints have long since enjoyed the benefit of continuity on offense in Sean Payton era, but in 2021 they will have to contend with some significant changes.

    For the first time since the 2005 campaign, the Saints will begin a season with a quarterback not named Drew Brees as their starter.

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    NFL Media's Ian Rapoport reported on Friday that Michael Thomas is expected to miss the start of the season having undergone ankle ligament surgery in June.

    Thomas was limited to just seven games last year because of persistent ankle injuries and the procedure to fix those problems will, at least in the opening weeks, rob the Saints' 2021 starting quarterback of a two-time first-team All-Pro who has blossomed from 2016 second-round pick into one of the most dependable wideouts in the NFL.

    Renowned for his route-running and his proficiency in making contested catches, Thomas produced at a historic level in 2019.

    He broke the single-season receptions record with 149, racking up a career-high 1,725 receiving yards at an average of 107.8 per game.

    Per Stats Perform data, Thomas registered a burn, which is when a receiver wins his matchup with a defender on a play where he is targeted regardless of whether the ball is catchable, on 76.1 per cent of his 184 targets.

    That was the fourth-highest rate among wide receivers in the NFL. Only one player who finished above him, Corey Davis (69), had even 50 targets.

    Thomas was tied for the second-most burn yards per route, trailing only Stefon Diggs (3.9) with an average of 3.6.

    He got open on 83.2 per cent of his targets, though he did so with an average depth of target of 8.1 yards, illustrating the Saints' dependence on shorter passes in the latter stages of Brees' career.

    Thomas will now miss out on the chance to quickly develop an even better understanding with the two quarterbacks, Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill, vying to be Brees' successor.

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    The Saints are used to life among the NFL's offensive elite, but with the two most important parts of the equation on that side of the ball out of the picture, at least for the start of 2021, they face being removed from the top table.

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    This result was timely for Sri Lanka – and not just because of their recent wretched run of form in the white-ball format.

    They sat second from bottom in the ICC's Cricket World Cup Super League prior to the game, with only Zimbabwe below them in the standings. This win lifts them one place, above the Netherlands, as they battle to qualify for the 2023 50-over tournament, which will be held in India.

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