Arsenal made it four group-stage wins from four in the Europa League this season after defeating Molde 3-0 on Thursday night.
The away side started well on the artificial pitch, but wasteful finishing undermined some fine build-up play. Their patience was eventually rewarded just after the break, when Nicolas Pepe, fresh from a controversial sending off at Leeds United, fired the ball home to hand Arsenal a vital lead. Reiss Nelson added a second minutes later, turning home Joe Willock’s superb low cross. Folarin Balogun wrapped up the win in style late on, scoring his first European goal for the club in the process.
The win firmly puts Arsenal in control of Group B, confirming their place in the knockout stages of the competition.
The away side looked very threatening from wide areas, with Nelson and Pepe both causing problems when motoring forward. However, the new formation, involving a back four rather than a five, could be a blueprint moving forward. The Gunners achieved good balance overall, and with slightly better finishing, the win could have been wrapped up even sooner. If they continue to get into dangerous areas with such regularity, goals shouldn’t be too much of an issue in the future.
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When they managed to get into dangerous looking positions, all too often this was wasted by poor end product. The likes of Nelson, Eddie Nketiah and Alexandre Lacazette couldn’t capitalise on good build-up play in the first half. The club’s recent goal drought probably doesn’t help matters, so Mikel Arteta will be pleased that they ended it in style in the second half. In addition, Molde managed to create all kinds of issues for the visitors whenever they managed to whip in a half decent cross.
Manager rating out of 10
8 — Arsenal hadn’t scored a goal from open play for 500 minutes coming into this clash, and it showed in the first half. Arteta did his best to try to rectify this by playing four at the back, with Lacazette, Nelson and Pepe all in attack. His side continued to look sharp offensively, and finally got their reward on the hour mark. The manager will be hoping his side have turned a corner, as some of their attacking play was magnificent.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best, players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Runar Runarsson, 7 — The young stopper looked solid when called into action, including a nice reaction save in the first half.
DF Cedric Soares, 6 — Assured defensively, but going forward he failed to make the same kind of impact as Ainsley Maitland-Niles on the opposite flank.
DF Shkodran Mustafi, 7 — Performed very well in what is his third consecutive Europa League start. Much improved of late.
DF David Luiz, 7 — Read the game remarkably well and never stopped trying to drag his side forward in possession. The livewire defender was equally effective aerially.
DF Ainsley Maitland-Niles, 7 — Looked very dangerous in tandem with Nelson down the left. His runs forward and clever link-up play opened up the Molde backline on a handful of occasions.
MF Granit Xhaka, 7 — Kept it simple in the middle of the park. His defensive contribution was most impressive, as he made several excellent blocks.
MF Joe Willock, 8 — Confident in possession, despite playing in a deeper role than the English youngster is perhaps used to. His beautifully weighted assist for Nelson’s goal rounded off an excellent night’s work.
Nicolas Pepe scored Arsenal’s first goal en route to a comfortable win at Molde. David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images
FW Reiss Nelson, 8 — Arsenal’s best performer in the first half. The former Hoffenheim loanee scored his side’s second goal of the evening following an intelligently timed run into the box.
FW Nicolas Pepe, 9 — The Ivory Coast international looked like a man on a mission on this night after his high-profile sending off last weekend. His direct running and industrious tracking back was finally rewarded in the second half, when he expertly fired home Arsenal’s opener.
FW Alexandre Lacazette, 7 — Played in a deeper No. 10 position, seemingly liberating the 29-year-old, who appeared to enjoy the extra space he was afforded.
FW Eddie Nketiah, 6 — Looked sharp, and consistently made defence-stretching runs in behind. Unfortunately for the England U21 international, he was seldom picked out, and squandered most opportunities he was eventually presented with.
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DF Rob Holding, 7 — Replaced Luiz for the second period, after the Brazilian picked up an injury. Hardly put a foot wrong while he was on the pitch.
MF Dani Ceballos, 6 — Slotted into the midfield well after replacing Xhaka on the hour mark.
DF Kieran Tierney, 6 — Added good energy down the left side.
MF Emile Smith-Rowe N/R — Provided the assist for Balogun’s late goal.
FW Folarin Balogun, N/R — Scored with virtually his first touch of the game, following an excellent swivel turn.