Arsenal looked at sea in the first half and it was a wave of yellow jerseys that swamped their half with crisp, aggressive, and adventurous matchplay. Ibazaga and Cani ran up the possession stats as Rossi and Llorente softened up the Arsenal defense. The backpedaling Gunners were unprepared for Senna's thunderous shot which reverse swung its way into goal. Senna is a compact player sparing with his touches but all have a purpose. He showed it through the match with his laser like shots at goal and his organizational capacity in midfield. He reminds one of a more powerful Gilberto.
Almunia already shaken up with a knock looked ashen after that. He departed and Lukacz Fabianski came on for the most important match in his Arsenal career and was tested right away. He proved decisive in his collection of corners and free kicks. Almunia was not the only casualty with Gallas limping off too and Djourou replacing him.
Wenger must have given the youngsters a talking to because they looked a lot sharper in the second half. Their passing picked up in confidence and they looked more incisive. Villareal has a penchant for giving up late goals and it was a beautiful little play in the 66th minute that gave Arsenal the equalizer. Fabregas looking up saw Adebayor in between two out of position defenders and lofted a perfectly placed pass that the Togolese striker chested down and effortlessly volleyed into the back of the net. It was majestic.
A good spell for the Gunners ensued as Villareal had trouble holding onto the ball. Nasri wasted a few opportunities to go ahead and Walcott's sizzler just went over the crossbar. Otherwise it looked like the Gunners were playing for a draw and their waning urgency almost let the Submariners back in the last 10 minutes.
There was a lot of energy in Sagna and Clichy's forays down the flanks but I wish they held onto the ball a bit longer for more bodies to arrive into the box before crossing. As it is many sailed harmlessly into no man's land. Clichy also needs to put more air into his crosses as many of them caromed off Villareal defenders.
A special moment when Robert Pires came on late in the second half and El Madrigal erupted in thunderous applause from fans of both clubs. He showed flashes of familiar creativity on the ball but otherwise had a quiet game.
The draw sets up Arsenal perfectly for the second leg to be played at home.