Nicolas Pepe redeemed himself with an outstanding display as Arsenal beat Molde 3-0 to seal their place in the UEFA Europa League Round of 32.
Arsenal were largely uninspired in a first half that they dominated, albeit without really threatening Molde goalkeeper Andreas Linde. In fact, the hosts created the best chance of the game, as it stayed as 0-0 heading into half-time. Post the interval, though, the Gunners were much-improved and did not take long in breaking the deadlock.
Just five minutes into the second period, Nicolas Pepe put Arsenal in front with a peach of a finish, mere moments after he had struck the woodwork. Shortly after, the visitors were two to the good, as Reiss Nelson finished off a cross by Joe Willock. Thereafter, Arsenal had a few more chances to add to their advantage but had to wait till the 83rd minute to put the game to bed.
The third and final goal came through Folarin Balogun, who combined beautifully with Emile Smith Rowe to make it 3-0 and round off the win. The result sealed Arsenal’s safe passage through to the UEFA Europa League Round of 32 and The Hard Tackle now runs the rule over Mikel Arteta’s men following an efficient display against Molde.
Runar Alex Runarsson: 6/10
Not a lot that he had to do on the night. Making just his second appearance for Arsenal, Runarsson enjoyed a largely quiet evening, having been forced to make just 1 save all game. Had one hairy moment on the ball, but was largely accurate when playing out from the back. Will feel good to get a clean sheet under his belt.
Cedric Soares: 7/10
A decent enough showing by Cedric, who has been a reliable backup to Hector Bellerin so far. The Portuguese full-back showed good chemistry with Nicolas Pepe down the right flank and even set up a half-chance. Defensively, he was largely untroubled apart from one or two nervy moments up against Martin Ellingsen.
Shkodran Mustafi: 7/10
A solid effort by Mustafi, who marshalled the backline well, especially after being handed the captain’s armband in the second half, when he embraced the leadership role further. Pure numbers were quite impressive – 6 duels won, 4 interceptions, 3 clearances, 3 tackles and 1 block. Making a case for himself, perhaps?
David Luiz: 6/10
A game of hits and misses for Luiz. The Brazilian was solid enough at the back, but his decision to play unnecessary long balls was a frustrating aspect of his performance on the day. Hooked off at half-time for Rob Holding.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles: 6.5/10
This was an outing in which Maitland-Niles gradually grew. The first half was one to forget for the Englishman, who was not quite at his best and showed some rustiness. However, post the interval, he was more industrious while being reliable with the ball at his feet.
Nicolas Pepe: 8/10
Nicolas Pépé for Arsenal vs. Molde:
◉ Most touches (80)
◉ Most crosses (12)
◉ Most touches in opp. box (11)
◉ Most take-ons completed (9) (!)
◉ Most shots (6)
◉ Most chances created (4)
= Most shots on target (2)
Redeemed himself yet? pic.twitter.com/PfGiPcpPzM
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) November 26, 2020
There was a lot of pressure on Pepe heading into the game despite Arteta backing him in the build-up. The Ivorian duly responded after getting the push from his manager, showing a lot of purpose every time he had the ball under him. His showing in the second half, though, stole the show.
Pepe first came close with a brilliant effort that struck the crossbar before breaking the deadlock and easing the pressure with a superb finish. Kept posing a threat, creating as many as 4 chances in the game and nearly grabbing an assist as well. Arteta was beaming with joy following this display and Pepe will hope to push on now.
Granit Xhaka: 7/10
Like several of his teammates, Xhaka grew into the game slowly. Once he found his feet, though, the former Arsenal captain dictated play quite well, while misplacing just 4 passes all game. Taken off around the hour mark to get a breather.
Joe Willock: 8/10
Joe Willock vs Molde
93% pass accuracy
2 key passes
1 big chance created
1 successful dribble
2 tackles won
1 aerial won
21 years of age. Fantastic box-to-box player. pic.twitter.com/cABnsE1BIB
— Football Talent Scout – Jacek Kulig (@FTalentScout) November 26, 2020
After a sub-par showing against Leeds United, this was a much-improved display from Willock. Playing in this role suits the youngster much more and he expressed himself better. Carried the ball superbly in the second half and earned a couple of assists for his efforts, all while boasting an excellent pass completion rate of 93 per cent. A step in the right direction.
Reiss Nelson: 8/10
Handed a rare start, this was Nelson’s chance to impress; and impress he did. The young winger was typically enterprising, albeit after a slow start to the game. Nelson, though, linked up beautifully with Willock, with one of the moments yielding Arsenal’s second goal.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) November 26, 2020
Eddie Nketiah: 6/10
Another player who blew hot and cold. Nketiah showed some neat touches over the course of the game, but was wasteful in front of goal, spurning one great clear-cut chance. Stitched together 1 key pass, though and generally looked good on the ball.
Alexandre Lacazette: 6/10
Lacazette played a pseudo no. 10 role, often dropping deep to create pockets of spaces. The French striker did that part of his job quite well but was found wanting when it came to his offensive output. Having said that, the nature of his role allowed Pepe and Nelson to flourish, which ultimately served Arsenal well.
Rob Holding: 6/10
On for Luiz at half-time, Holding was hardly tested as Arsenal heaped the pressure on Molde in the second period. Won each of his ground duels, though, and chose to keep things simple on the ball, unlike Luiz.
Dani Ceballos: 6/10
Ceballos replaced Xhaka and continued from where the Swiss midfielder left. Pulled the strings with ease and helped open up play in the lead-up to Arsenal’s third, as Folarin Balogun scored.
Emile Smith Rowe: 7/10
On for Lacazette, Smith Rowe’s introduction helped Arsenal play with a genuine no. 10 and that ensured a smooth flow of the moves. Set Balogun up for the third goal of the game.
Kieran Tierney: N/A
Given the final 15 minutes, Tierney helped see the game out.
Folarin Balogun: 7/10
19-year-old Folarin Balogun scored his first Arsenal goal 37 seconds after coming on as a substitute against Molde ⚡ pic.twitter.com/hOUE3IO0qf
— B/R Football (@brfootball) November 26, 2020
Players on the pitch for less than 15 minutes do not ideally get rated. However, Balogun had a night to remember, scoring his first-ever goal for Arsenal. Amid uncertainty over his future, this was a good distraction for the highly-rated striker.