Report: Molde 0-3 Arsenal

Arsenal secured qualification for the knockout stages of the Europa League with a routine victory over Molde.

Nicolas Pépé made amends for his dismissal at Elland Road with a man-of-the-match display out in Norway. 

He was positive in possession, always looked to dart forward and had the hosts’ defence looking nervous all evening as he continually cut in from the right. After a couple of warnings, Pépé thundered an effort off the crossbar before slotting home the opener. 

Reiss Nelson also impressed and bagged the second before fellow Hale End man Folarin Balogun wrapped up the win with his debut goal. 

It was another new set-up for Arsenal as Mikel Arteta made eight changes, pairing Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah in a strike partnership. Pépé, Granit Xhaka and Joe Willock were the only three to keep their place from the weekend. 

The players also had to get to grips with the surface as Molde play on an artificial pitch and there were a number of slips and bobbles in the opening stages.

Nelson looked lively and clearly was eager to impress, linking up well with Maitland-Niles before forcing Andreas Linde into a fine stop.

Sheriff Sinyan should have put the hosts ahead when he met a fizzing cross at the far post unmarked but his connection fell into the grateful hands of Alex Rúnarsson. Shkodran Mustafi then showed great defensive awareness to put of Leke James when poised to shoot. 

The Gunners enjoyed plenty of possession but apart from some hopeful efforts from Pépé their half was summed up when Nelson was crowded out in the box with the ball never really under his control. 

Rob Holding came on at the break in place of David Luiz, who failed to shake off the effects of an earlier collision.

If anyone was going to break the deadlock it seemed destined to be Pépé and after he fired a warning shot that cannoned off the crossbar, the attacker got his third goal of the competition. Maitland-Niles’ cross reached him at the far post and he picked his spot with a confident strike.

That eased any nerves that Arsenal were feeling and soon the chances started to flow. Nketiah was denied by the linesman after tapping home Maitland-Niles’ effort before Nelson doubled the lead with a close-range finish from a driven Willock cross. 

Nketiah had another chance to get his name on the scoresheet but headed over when well-placed after Pépé had picked him out with a pin-point cross. 

Dani Ceballos replaced Xhaka shortly after the hour mark and Arsenal continued to carve out chances and Linde had to be alert to keep out a fierce Lacazette drive.

The hosts threatened a grandstand finish when James curled an effort that rose just over the crossbar after Kieran Tierney and Emile Smith Rowe were introduced, the latter for his first appearance in 11 months.

Folarin Balogun then came on for a 10-minute cameo and it proved to be a memorable one as the academy graduate collected a Smith Rowe pass, turned his defender and fired an unstoppable effort beyond the goalkeeper to open his Gunners account. 

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