ARSENAL boss Mikel Arteta praised keeper Bernd Leno for ‘conserving’ their season after a pair of exceptional stops inspired a fightback in the very first leg of their Europa League semi-final versus Villarreal.
The Gunners were on the ropes at 2-0 down in Spain and it could have gotten worse for the North London side had their German shot-stopper not brilliantly denied Gerard Moreno on 2 occasions in the second half.
And those saves were rewarded when Bukayo Saka won a penalty for the visitors and Nicolas Pepe converted to get Toolbox a vital away goal.
Arteta singled out Leno after the game for keeping them in the tie, with the Europa League the only competitors left for the Gunners to complete for this season.
As reported by the BBC, the Arsenal manager said: “We didn’t want to come here and lose however after the way the video game developed, you have to take the outcome. If you have to lose it is probably the best result we might have.
” 2 different halves. We started to be us, in the very first half there were a lot of moments we weren’t.
” We began to chase and were not accurate with the ball, didn’t have adequate control. We didn’t have sufficient risk or desire to attack package, in the second half it was entirely different.
” Bernd Leno was very good, at 2-0, the opportunity with Gerard Moreno, he saved us.
” We had a huge possibility with Auba to draw the video game. I am confident we have a possibility to win.”
Toolbox go back to the Emirates for the 2nd leg next Thursday knowing they need to score just one objective to take them through to the final.
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However they will have to do so without midfield master Dani Ceballos after he was dispatched for a second yellow card in the 57th minute.
Unai Emery’s Villarreal likewise had a player dismissed 10 minutes from time when ex-Spurs guy Etienne Capoue was providing his marching orders.
In the other Europa League semi-final, Manchester United put one foot in the last after a thumping 6-2 success over Roma at Old Trafford.
If Male Utd and Arsenal reach the final, it will be the 2nd time in 3 years that the Europa League is decided between 2 English groups after the Gunners completed runners-up to Chelsea in 2019.