A night that brought redemption and frustration in equal measure for Nicolas Pépé. Arsenal’s record signing responded determinedly to his foolish red card against Leeds United, scoring his side’s first goal and generally terrorising Molde FK’s defence, but his excellence here also showed what his club will be missing for their next three league games.
On this form, against admittedly limited opposition, Pépé is the game-changing attacking player that Mikel Arteta needs. How exasperating, then, that the winger will be limited to Europa League action in the coming weeks as a result of his three-game domestic suspension.
“I could see from the first minute, from his body language, that he was ready to act,” said Arteta. “We all know where his level is. All the time the question is how often he can get to that level. 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.”
Perhaps Pépé’s absence from the Premier League side will present an opportunity for young Reiss Nelson, a winger of huge promise. With Pépév starring on the right flank, Nelson did the same on the left. The 20-year-old scored a fine goal, a poacher’s finish, and played with eye-catching imagination throughout.
Nelson was also joined on the scoresheet by another Arsenal academy starlet, Folarin Balogun. The 19-year-old is seen as one of the club’s brightest prospects and scored his first senior goal on only his second appearance.
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) November 26, 2020
There have been some doubts over Balogun’s long-term future at Arsenal but the club are in talks over a new deal. Arteta wants him to remain in north London and his goalscoring flourish will surely help to convince him that this is the best place for his development. “He had some difficult moments with all the speculation around him,” said Arteta. “He has handled the situation in a really mature way. He wants to stay, we want him to stay.”
The three goals ensured a fourth win from four in this season’s Europa League and guaranteed Arsenal’s place in the knockout stages. Molde were unable to make the most of their artificial pitch, and the unusual bounces and spins it brings, as Arsenal swatted them aside in a five-minute burst after half-time.
In truth, Arteta might have expected his side to be leading long before then, but Arsenal were relatively bright despite making eight changes from their draw with Leeds at the weekend. Aside from one close-range miss by Molde’s Sheriff Sinyan, they were largely untroubled at the back. At the other end they had sights of goal through Pépé, Nelson and Eddie Nketiah before the break.
The opener arrived shortly after the restart. Moments after striking the bar with a curling 25-yard effort, Pépé popped up at the back post to steer the ball into the corner. Within a few minutes he was off and running again, weaving through the defence and almost playing Nketiah through on goal.
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) November 26, 2020
Molde had barely caught their breath before Arsenal were in behind once more, this time with Joe Willock charging down the right. His cross picked out Nelson in the six-yard box, whose finish was clinical.
The nature of Nelson’s goal brought to mind Raheem Sterling’s improvements at Manchester City, where he worked closely with Arteta on those exact darting runs. If Nelson can make even half of the progress that Sterling has made, he will be some asset going forward.
“He is so willing,” said Arteta. “He is asking for more all the time. He wants individual meetings, he wants to work. He is training really well and physically he has developed as well. He had a click. We needed that click and now it is up to him. His performances have been really good.”
The contest was over by the time Balogun came on, but this will still be a moment to remember for the young striker and his family. Receiving a pass from Emile Smith Rowe, he turned sharply with his first touch and finished powerfully with his second to decorate a comfortable night for his club.
Full time Molde 0 Arsenal 3
Four wins out of four for Arsenal and a very impressive second-half performance of youthful verve and purpose.
90+1 min Molde 0 Arsenal 3
The first of three minutes of added time begins with Balogan caught offside as he chases Pepe's pass.
89 min Molde 0 Arsenal 3
Misunderstanding between Mustafi and Holding gives the ball away but Maitland-Niles is there to mop up the danger with another excellent interception.
87 min Molde 0 Arsenal 3
Maitland-Niles anticipates Aursnes' attempt to thread the ball into the box from the edge and towards Omoijuanfo, toes it away and Tierney wellies it upfield.
86 min Molde 0 Arsenal 3
Knudtzon comes on for Gregersen.
84 min Molde 0 Arsenal 3
Tierney gallops down the left, feeds it into Smith Rowe who centres for Balogan whose touch kills the pace and allows him to turn and shoot through the keeper's legs from about nine yards.
Molde 0 Arsenal 3 (Balogan) Blimey! What an entrance.
81 min Molde 0 Arsenal 2
Diouble Molde substitution: Risa and Rikram leave, Brynhildsen and Pedersen enter. Balogan comes on for Arsenal, replacing Nketiah.
79 min Molde 0 Arsenal 2
Maitland-Niles is now playing in central midfield with Smith Rowe. Eikram tries to beat Arsenal's disciplined lines with a threaded pass down the inside right but hits it too hard and it rolls through to Runarsson.
77 min Molde 0 Arsenal 2
Excellent from Bolly who canters down the left to the byline, turns Cedric and leaves him in his wake as he tacks back to the 18-yard line and whips a right-foot shot that evades Runarsson's dive but shaves the top of the bar.
75 min Molde 0 Arsenal 2
Double Arsenal substitution: Smith Rowe and Tierney replace Willock and Lacazette.
73 min Molde 0 Arsenal 2
Willock brings the ball forward on a forceful, diagonal dribble for 25 yards during which he is bumped and pushed a couple of times but impressively holds his pursuers off until his passing options are squeezed further, accepting the free-kick.
70 min Molde 0 Arsenal 2
Lacazette hammers a right-foot shot from about 16 yards that the keeper dives to his left to turn around the post. He was teed up by Nketiah's battling qualities with back to goal and delicate, nudged lay-off.
68 min Molde 0 Arsenal 2
Excellent defensive work from Maitland-Niles to chase down Aursnes and hold him off, allowing the ball to run out for a goalkick.
66 min Molde 0 Arsenal 2
No problems at the corner for Arsenal. Apologies - forgot to note outside my head that Rob Holding has been on since half-time for David Luiz.
64 min Molde 0 Arsenal 2
Nketiah attempts a back-heel finish to turn in Pepe's right-wing cross and succeeds only in missing the goal and Lacazette's run. Molde come back on to the attack and Cedric blocks Ellingsen's cross out for a corner.
62 min Molde 0 Arsenal 2
First Arsenal sub: Ceballos enters and Xhaka exits.
60 min Molde 0 Arsenal 2
Molde sub: James goes off and is replaced by Omoijuanfo. Hussain departs and Bolly comes on for him.
58 min Molde 0 Arsenal 2
Molde corner on the right. Arsenal defend it and break at lightning in numbers. Pepe bends in an inswinger from the right, perfectly picking out Nketiah eight yards out but he meets it with the top of his head, presumably thinking he was farther out than he was, and loops his header on to the top of the goal. He must have been trying to knock it over Linde's leap but didn't realise he had no leeway at all.
56 min Molde 0 Arsenal 2
Lovely cross from Willock after getting round the back down the right. Nelson had smelled the danger and come on a cavalry charge to join Nketiah in the box, giving him a tap-in at the back post.
Like the first game, Arsenal shift up a gear in the second half and Molde can't live with them anymore.
Molde 0 Arsenal 2 (Nelson)
54 min Molde 0 Arsenal 1
Nketiah goal-rakes from six yards when Linde parries Maitland-Niles' daisycutter from 20 yards but the goal is ruled out by the linesman's flag. It was a tight one.
53 min Molde 0 Arsenal 1
Pepe dribbles forward and laces a pass through to Nketiah who had drifted offside.
51 min Molde 0 Arsenal 1
Another left-foot shot from the right, this one from a tighter angle. Nelson's driven cross from the left is glanced on by Gregersen. Pepe traps it and the touch drops it perfectly to wrap his instep around a curling shot from about two yards to the right of the six-yard box that arrows into the top left corner.
Molde 0 Arsenal 1 (Pepe)
49 min Molde 0 Arsenal 0
Sensational left-foot shot from Pepe from 25 yards, cutting in from the right on to his left, He gets it up and over the diving Linde but it crashes into the underside of the crossbar and bounces away from goal and Nketiah following up.
48 min Molde 0 Arsenal 0
Cedric and Pepe play a one-two down the right into the box but the right-back's pull-back to the penalty spot is booted away by Hussain.
46 min Molde 0 Arsenal 0
They're off again and Ellingsen hares down the left and whips over a cross that Arsenal clear.
Half-time Molde 0 Arsenal 0
Molde have had the best chance, Arsenal have had more attacking thrust with Nelson and Maitland-Niles making hay on the left and Pepe cutting in, as he does, from the right. Lacazette is roaming deep but would help Nketiah more by pushing up alongside or ahead of him more.
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) November 26, 2020
45 min Molde 0 Arsenal 0
The first corner begets two more, all well defended. Linde then punts long and Runarsson, inexplicably decides to come for it outside the area, isolates himself but is bailed out by his defenders.
43 min Molde 0 Arsenal 0
Arsenal counter quickly with Nelson bombing down the left. He gets to the byline and checks back to bend an inswinger with his right foot beyond the keeper for Nketiah but the so far excellent Sinyan has tracked him all the way and steals in front by a nose to glance a defensive header behind.
41 min Molde 0 Arsenal 0
Wingo gets away from Nelson but wastes an opportunity with a shanked shot. Then Eikrem is given too much space in front of the penalty area to line up a shot with his right. Xhaka throws himself in the way of the thunderbolt to block it with his head and Runarsson catches it when it pops up.
39 min Molde 0 Arsenal 0
Nelson makes a stride down the left and checks back on to his right as Gregersen stands off. He goes for the right-foot curler into the top bins but could not bend it back in.
38 min Molde 0 Arsenal 0
Arsenal getting a bit bogged down and Lacazette's positioning in that No10 role isn't working.
35 min Molde 0 Arsenal 0
Lacazette and Nelson waste shooting chances with too many touches around the box. There's a tentativeness that a finisher of the Arsenal captain's pedigree should not suffer from.
33 min Molde 0 Arsenal 0
Pepe tacks in from the right for the umpteenth time and lays the ball in to the feet of Lacazette. He returns it and Pepe, all one-touch this move, sweeps a pass to the feet of Nketiah in the D. The striker turns rapidly and wraps a right-foot shot into the advertising hoardings about a foot wide of the right post.
30 min Molde 0 Arsenal 0
Very dangerous cross from the left whipped in by Ellingsen and makes its way via a flick to the back post where Eikrem gets the better of Maitland-Niles to shoot.
Molde shout for a penalty for an inadvertent handball and a hand on the shoulder of an attacker but the referee turns both down as Sinyan and David Luiz collide as they climb for a header in the Arsenal box.
28 min Molde 0 Arsenal 0
Nketiah holds on to the ball too long as he gallops down the inside left. Pepe has made a fine run, peeling off to his right but by the time Nketiah releases it he can only poke it a few feet to Maitland-Niles who is well-marked.
26 min Molde 0 Arsenal 0
Sinyan makes a superb, last-gasp sliding tackle to stop Nketiah going through on the keeper.
25 min Molde 0 Arsenal 0
Arsenal, despite the pitch, have been very lively and look threatening down both wings but especially the left.
22 min Molde 0 Arsenal 0
Nelson again is sent down the left by Maitland-Niles. He drives towards the box then chips a diagonal over the defence into the path of Lacazette who has crept round the back. But eh can't control his volley as the ball came across his left shoulder on to his right foot. It was a really difficult chance.
20 min Molde 0 Arsenal 0
Nketiah runs 50 yards after a great pass from Willock. He glides forward, Nketiah makes a run to occupy a defender and open a gap fro him to cut in on to his left in the D and fire a shot the wrong side of the angle of the left post and bar. Aiming for a top bins special he couldn't get it to dip quickly enough.
18 min Molde 0 Arsenal 0
Shot from Pepe, too straight with his left foot and too close to the keeper.
17 min Molde 0 Arsenal 0
Big chance for Molde when Eikrem's corner beats everyone between him and the back post. Sinyan slides in three yards from goal and his right-foot effort somehow comes off his heel and flies across the line towards the inside of the other post before Runarsson clawed it away.
15 min Molde 0 Arsenal 0
Nelson, who has been Arsenal's best player, drives down the left again and pushes a return pass into the stride of Lacazette running on the angle into the box. His near-post shot is struck at the keeper. His better option would have been to try to bend it into the other corner with his right foot.
14 min Molde 0 Arsenal 0
Sinyan heads the corner to the edge of the box where Maitland-Niles picks it up and passes it down the right for Cedric. His deflected cross bobbles over to the other side of the box where Pepe meets it on the half-volley with a wild swinger that slices it into the seats where, great to see, a few fans are gathered.
13 min Molde 0 Arsenal 0
Arsenal corner after Nelson stretches the Molde defence down the left again, fed by Maitland-Niles. Pepe will take.
11 min Molde 0 Arsenal 0
Ellingsen's tenacity down the left earns him a corner after checking back on to his left foot when chased by Cedric who deflected his cross behind. David Luiz ensures the corner comes to naught with good positioning and resolute strength.
9 min Molde 0 Arsenal 0
Slick move from Molde down the right ends with Hestad trying but failing to pull the right-wing cross back from the middle into Eikrem in the box.
7 min Molde 0 Arsenal 0
David Luiz is quickly out to intercept a speculative long pass up the right for James to chase behind Maitland-Niles. He knocks it out for a throw. The 4G pitch is worrying co-commentator Karen Carney, who fears injuries as the players struggle to adjust so rapidly from grass.
5 min Molde 0 Arsenal 0
Lacazette is actually stationed behind Nketiah in a 4-4-1-1. Nelson and Maitland-Niles fly up the left together again and Nelson spears a pass behind Wingo for the left-back to chase but Gregersen manages to hold him off and let the ball run into touch.
3 min Molde 0 Arsenal 0
Xhaka picks the ball up in central midfield and slips it down the left to Nelson. He combines with Maitland-Niles who tries to chip the keeper. Linde backpedals quicker than Peter Shilton managed in 1990 and tips the ball behind for a corner that Molde defend stoutly.
1 min Molde 0 Arsenal 0
Arsenal kick-off, attacking from right to left and degfinitely lining up in a 4-4-2. Nelson fires over a left-wing cross that Sinyan heads clear.
The teams are out
Arsenal in their spooky white shirts with blood vessel trim and gothic script. Molde in blue shirts and white shorts.
The players observe a minute's silence for El Diego.
And now for those of you watching in black and white
Molde Linde, Wingo, Gregersen, Sinyan, Risa, Aursnes, Ellingsen, Hussain, Hestad, Eikrem, James.
Substitutes Mostrom, Craninx, Knudtzon, Christensen, Brynhildsen, Ranmark, Pedersen, Bolly, Omoijuanfo.
Arsenal Runarsson, Cedric, Mustafi, Luiz, Maitland-Niles, Pepe, Willock, Xhaka, Nelson, Lacazette, Nketiah.
Substitutes Macey, Bellerin, Tierney, Ceballos, Holding, Smith-Rowe, Balogun, Hein, Cottrell, Azeez.
Referee Irfan Peljto (Bosnia-Herzegovina)
Arsenal go for a back four
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) November 26, 2020
Group B's second-placed club host the leaders, Arsenal, tonight at the Aker. It's expected to be only 4C this evening in Norway but judging by Kieran Tierney at training last night, when he played in shorts and a T-shirt by contrast with his thermal-clad and snooded team-mates, the drop in temperature will not faze at least one of the players. Mikel Arteta should make him captain then he, in the Arsenal tradition, could dictate the length of sleeve to be worn, and none of those skins underneath either when the captain commands short-sleeve order.
Arsenal fought back from a goal down at the Emirates to win 4-1 on Bonfire night, taking the lead by virtue of two own goals, a convincing win if not exactly a convincing performance. Add that to victories over Rapid Wien and Dundalk and three points here would just about guarantee Arsenal qualification for the knockout stages of the competition.
Nicolas Pepe scored in that game and in the 3-0 victory over Dundalk, After his red card at Elland Road, another goal tonight and a more consistent performance on the right wing would go some way towards atonement for Arsenal's record signing. Having watched Arsenal six times this season, it seems to me that they have some very talented players but not a very good team. Neither the shape nor the quality of midfield players around Thomas Partey are good enough and both are interlinked. Get the balance of the midfield right and they have the players to prosper. I'd like to see Ainsley Maitland-Niles given a run in central midfield this side of the transfer window.
As for Molde, the played very well in the first half at the Emirates, Martin Ellingsen scored a fine goal and, though they are already out of the race to defend their domestic title, Bodo-Glimt being 18 points ahead of them with five to play, they had good wins in Ireland and over Rapid Vienna at home. A point today would position them nicely in the fight for second place though they will miss Ohi Omoijuanfo who looks certain to be absent with illness.