Molde 0-3 Arsenal: Nicolas Pepe repays Mikel Arteta’s faith with the opening goal after red card at Leeds as Reiss Nelson and super sub Folarin Balogun strike to seal Europa League knockout spot
- Arsenal travelled to Norway to face Molde on Thursday in the Europa League
- The first-half ended goalless with both sides going close, the Gunners on top
- Molde centre-back Sheriff Sinyan missed an open-goal sitter in the first 45
- Nicholas Pepe put in a determined display and scored the Gunners’ first
- Reiss Nelson bagged the second five minutes later in the 55th minute
- Folarin Balogun then scored his first goal for the Gunners’ first-team
A much-needed response from Nicolas Pepe, first European strike for Reiss Nelson, dream goal for exciting striker Folarin Balogun and qualification secured at the first opportunity.
After some of the headaches he has had in recent weeks, which left him fearing bad news whenever he opened his office door, there were eventually only plus points from Arsenal’s trip to Molde for manager Mikel Arteta.
At half-time it appeared Arsenal had brought some of their Premier League creativity issues with them to Norway.
Arsenal qualified for the Europa League last-32 with two games to spare after beating Molde
Winger Nicolas Pepe was the Gunners’ driving force on the night, bagging the opening goal
Reiss Nelson scored the second with a tap-in as the Gunners hit full stride in the second-half
Flo Balogun (left) scored for Arsenal after the youngster came off the bench to make an impact
But the shackles came off after the break and in the end it proved to be a notable occasion for a number of reasons. Firstly Pepe.
After his indiscretion at Leeds, the comfort of the Europa League, a competition Arsenal’s £72m club record signing has been at home in, was just what Pepe needed.
From almost the first whistle he performed like a man with some making up to do after getting needlessly sent off for a head butt against Leeds.
And it was little surprise when Pepe, the biggest contributor to Arsenal’s Europa League progress so far with three goals and two assists, set them on their way at the Aker Stadion.
ARSENAL PLAYER RATINGS:
ARSENAL (4-2-3-1): Runarsson 7; Cedric 7, Mustafi 7, Luiz 7 (Holding 46, 7), Maitland-Niles 7, Willock 7.5 (Tierney 75, 6.5), Xhaka 6.5 (Ceballos 62, 6.5); Pepe 8, Lacazette 7 (Smith Rowe 75, 7), Nelson 8; Nketiah 6.5 (Balogun 82, 7.5).
Subs not used: Macey, Hein, Bellerin, Cottrell, Azeez
Scorers: Pepe 50, Nelson 55, Balogun 83
Manager: Mikel Arteta 8
Referee: Irfan Peljto (Bosnia) 7
Man of the match: Pepe
His 50th-minute goal came just after he smashed an effort against the bar and from his fourth attempt to find Andreas Linde’s far top corner, such was his determination to make his mark.
Arteta said: ‘After something negative you want to see a reaction. I could see from the first minute, from his body language, that he was ready to react.
‘Today is the example. That is the level he needs to hit, and from there he needs to keep improving because he is capable of doing it.’
Five minutes later Nelson, another of Arsenal’s standout performers, also netted from a Joe Willock cross as he enhanced his claims for more game time.
Joe Willock assisted both Nelson and Pepe’s goals, on a strong night for Arsenal’s academy
Pepe was keen to impress Mikel Arteta after being sent-off against Leeds at the weekend
The Gunners have now kept back-to-back clean-sheets as Arteta looks to fix the defence
Arteta said: ‘He is showing what he can do. The last performances from him have been really good. He showed a great attitude in my opinion to say he did not want to leave on loan because he believes that he has a chance to play for his club.
‘He is showing that he wants to take that direction and he is performing the right way.’
Then came the fairytale moment for Balogun, the academy prospect scoring his first Arsenal senior goal with his second touch just 37 seconds after coming on.
His clinical finish was an example of why Arsenal have such high hopes for him and have reopened contract talks in a bid to keep the prolific 19 year-old.
The Gunners have a 100 per cent record in Group B and can now relax with qualification done
Balogun showed why those at the north London club rate him so highly with his cameo
‘Well deserved for the boy. He is working really hard. He had some difficult months with all the speculation around him. He has handled the situation in a really mature way,’ Arteta said.
‘He wants to stay, we want him to stay, we gave him the opportunity to stay and he took it straight away.’
There is now little riding on Rapid Vienna’s visit next week with Arsenal needing just a point to secure top spot.
But the prospect of potentially seeing more from the likes of Balogun is a further reason to want to be among the lucky 2000 who will be the first supporters to return to a Premier League ground.