It seemed likely to be much worse for Mikel Arteta’s side, however, as they trailed 2-0 at the break through goals from Manu Trigueros and Raul Albiol then saw Dani Ceballos sent off in the second half.
However, the Gunners showed some spirit and after Bukayo Saka was awarded a controversial penalty that Nicolas Pepe converted, Etienne Capoue, who had been a lynchpin for the home side, was dismissed.
Nevertheless, Villarreal hold a slim lead to take to London, but the concession of the away goal could prove telling.
We have reviewed some of they key performers from the contest.
✔️ Nicolas Pepe: 7.1
Nicolas Pepe may not have justified the giant transfer fee that Arsenal paid for him, but the former Lille man continues to come up with the goods in the Europa League.
His penalty midway through the second half, which he fired straight down the middle, has given his team a lifeline to cling onto in the tie – and their season.
In open play, he was one of their brighter players as Martin Odegaard and Emile Smith Rowe both struggled to impose themselves on the match.
❌ Dani Ceballos: 5.8
Several Arsenal players had difficult nights, with Granit Xhaka exposed in the left-back role. However, it was Ceballos who was the main disappointment for the visiting side as he clattered into silly challenges either side of half-time to be dismissed early in the second half.
His actions could and should have cost his team more dearly.
⭐️ Raul Albiol: 7.6
Raul Albiol struck the decisive blow in this match shortly before the half-hour mark but was head and shoulders above anyone else on the field in terms of his overall contribution.
Defended stoutly throughout and, aside from netting a goal, was a threat from set pieces.
Villarreal will need the veteran defender to be at this level if they are to survive what is likely to be an onslaught at the Emirates.