Arsenal winger Nicolas Pepe is refusing to give up on the Gunners’ aspirations of reaching this season’s UEFA Europa League final.
The north Londoners, who lost 4-1 to Chelsea in the final in 2019, suffered a blow in their quest to reach the showpiece event in Gdansk next month after losing the first-leg of their semi-final showdown with Villarreal last night, going down 2-1.
Manu Trigueros and Raul Albiol fired the Spanish side into a two-goal lead before the clock had even reached the 30-minute mark, meaning Unai Emery’s side found themselves in an excellent position before the referee had even called half time.
But despite producing a flat and lethargic display in the opening 45, the Gunners, who had Dani Ceballos sent-off, got themselves back into the contest with 17 minutes remaining. Bukayo Saka showed clever feet to win a penalty, allowing Nicolas Pepe to step up, net his third goal in as many Europa League games and secure a vital away-goal in the tie for the Gunners.
The Ivory Coast international’s cool finish has allowed Arsenal to believe again, so much so that a 1-0 win in next Thursday evening’s second-leg at the Emirates Stadium would see them keep their aspirations of winning the trophy alive.
And it certainly appears as though that is the mindset Pepe has ahead of next week’s second-leg, as he took to social media following the full time whistle to issue a rallying cry in the direction of almost everyone associated with the club.
On Instagram, the winger, who posted two images of him running back towards the centre circle following his penalty, said: “See you at the return in London.
“Come on Gunners.”
With that said, it is clear that Pepe is remaining optimistic about Arsenal’s chances of reaching the final, which would almost certainly see themselves go up against Manchester United after they hammered Italian giants Roma 6-2 in the first-leg of their respective semi-final last night.
Like Pepe, Gunners chief Mikel Arteta is refusing to get too downbeat, admitting that his side still have an opportunity to progress to the final.
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Speaking in his post-match press conference, Arteta said: “We’ve got an opportunity. It’s a big challenge what we have ahead of us now, but we have the opportunity to make it but it has to be now.
“In the return-leg it’s going to be too late.
“We have to change it right now. We are able to do that. You are going to get here in a completely different position.
“We still have another incident which is the red card and play with ten men against this team. And the team went to a different level again and we got the goal.”