Bukayo Saka happy as Arsenal respond to horror start and keep Europa tie alive

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Mark Mann-Bryans, PA
·2-min read
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Bukayo Saka praised Arsenal for recovering from a “horrible” start to their Europa League semi-final against Villarreal as Nicolas Pepe’s penalty kept them in the tie heading into next week’s second leg.

The Gunners found themselves two goals behind and down to 10 men as a tactical tweak from manager Mikel Arteta to play without a recognised striker failed to pay off.

First-half goals from Manuel Trigueros and Raul Albiol preceded a Dani Ceballos red card just before the hour.

But Pepe converted from the spot to send Arsenal home with a 2-1 deficit, Villarreal having also been reduced to 10 men late on following the dismissal of former Tottenham man Etienne Capoue.

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Saka, who was one of the better performers on an average night for the visitors and won the penalty from which Pepe scored, admitted the start of the game was far from good enough.

“These big semi-finals, I can’t win the game by myself, nobody can win a game by themselves,” he said.

“I think the team, the way we started was horrible. You can’t start a game like this and it’s no surprise we went 2-0 down.

“There are a lot of positives, which all came in the second half. But, like I said, it’s a semi-final, Europa League, and to start the game like this it’s impossible to have a chance of scoring.

“We didn’t create anything, we lost every duel, we were passive and it’s really frustrating to look back on it.

“But I am just happy that in the second half, we picked ourselves up and we got a good chance and we managed to score.”

Arteta revealed he had told his players at half-time that the response to a poor start had to come in the second half in Spain and not a week later.

Nicolas Pepe's penalty gave Arsenal an away goal.
Nicolas Pepe’s penalty gave Arsenal an away goal. (Alberto Saiz/AP)

Asked if he felt the dynamic of the tie has now changed following the final 45 minutes at El Madrigal, Saka added: “Yes, 100 per cent.

“I definitely think we showed we are better than them, even with 10 men we were dominating them. “So, it is just up to us. It is always up to us. I think we have a team full of quality players and, when we play properly, we can beat anyone

“I think, to be honest, to go to 10 men and react and get a goal back, I think we did really well. So, we leave ourselves with a good chance of going through at the Emirates.”