Arsenal entered their clash with Molde FK safe in the knowledge that a draw or win would guarantee them qualification into the Round of 32 in the Europa League. It seemed as though Mikel Arteta was taking nothing for granted, as he fielded a strong team, and entrusting in the youngsters that had so far given Arsenal three wins out of three in the competition.
There was a return to the side for Alexandre Lacazette, who did not appear in Arsenal’s narrow 0-0 draw with Leeds at Elland Road on Sunday; Nicolas Pépé who had marked his return to the starting eleven in the Premier League in the aforementioned game on Sunday with a totally unnecessary red card, kept his place, given that he will be absent from Arsenal’s next three Premier League matches.
Arsenal started the game well, Molde gave no signs of an intention to simply sit back and allow the Arsenal team to attack as they had done last week, they were more open to attacking themselves, which left their defence open to Arsenal’s pacy attack.
Though Arsenal failed to put any of their chances away in the first half, it was an encouraging display that was coated in a sense of shyness in front of goal. Neither Eddie Nketiah or Alexandre Lacazette looked particularly open to the idea of firing an effort on goal and Reiss Nelson often found himself surrounded by players too often.
Alas, Nicolas Pépé seemed to be the only player that was capable of shooting on the Molde goal and several of his efforts were either high, wide and handsome or were blasted wide.
In the second-half, Arsenal played as well as they had in the first, but with the added caveat of finding their shooting boots finally. Pépé let off an absoutle screamer of a shot, only to see his spectacular effort cannon off the crossbar, but he did not need to wait long for a reprieve. Barely two minutes later, Ainsley Maitland-Niles crossed the ball for Pépé, who brought it down and fired an effort into the same top corner that he had just been unfortunate to place his previous shot into to give the Gunners the lead.
From there, Arsenal meant business and though Molde bravely attempted to bring things back on level terms, the speed of the Arsenal attack was simply too much for them to handle and Joe Willock found himself in acres of space and placed a slide-rulle pass into the path of the onrushing Reiss Nelson who turned the ball in for the Gunners’ second, a goal made in Hale End.
In the 82nd minute, Eddie Nketiah was withdrawn by Folarian Balogun, who played in Arsenal’s Europa League tie against Dundalk. The American-born English international has found himself in the midst of contract negotiations in recent weeks as Arsenal look desperate to keep a hold of the youngster and it’s clear to see why. Despite barely being on the field for one full minute, Arsenal broke forward with substitute Kieran Tierney, who fed fellow substitute Emile Smith-Rowe (who recently returned from injury) whof ed Balogun, who was able to turn his defender and place his shot into the back of the net to wrap up a superb performance from Arsenal and assure them club that qualification into the Round of 32 was assured.
All in all, it was a very good performance from Arteta’s side. Though the quality of opposition that Arsenal have faced so far in the Europa League is perhaps not at the same standard in the Premier League, it was nevertheless a very strong response fromt he team’s dissapointing performance on Sunday.
It seemed to give Arsenal the chance to tinker about with their formation as well.
Though on paper, Arsenal’s formation looked distinctly like a 4-4-2, in reality, it played more like a 4-2-3-1. Mikel Arteta has seen Alexandre Lacazette drop deeper into the midfield of late, something the Frenchman has been doing for a while and has likely been what has prompted a lacklustre showing in front of goal, however, this time, it seemed to suit him.
Lacazette was not deployed as an orthodox central forward or as a central attacking midfielder, allowing him license to shoot and also to drop deep when needed. Though Nketiah did not have his best game, it was clear to see why the plan worked so well, given Nketiah’s movement and quick pressing abilities.
The game was a rousing success for the Hale End academy too. Though Head of Academy Per Mertesacker will no doubt be aware that there is still work to be done with Arsenal’s talented crop of youngsters, he will take particular pleasure in seeing Arsenal’s youngsters blood-in the first team, with Miguel Azeez and Ben Cottrell also waiting in the wings, desperate for a chance.
But while Folarian Balogun’s contract saga rumbles on, the England forward did very little to dispell the faith that Mikel Arteta has shown in him. Though his goal may have had the hauntings of luck as the Molde goalkeeper Andreas Linde managed to get a hand to it, the striker will be glad that he has announced himself in the first-team in such good fashion.
For now, Arsenal will onlyf ocus on ensuring that they qualify as group winners, which they only require a point to do, but this is now a chance for Arsenal’s youngsters to be given a run out and for key players to be rested as the attention now turns to the visit of Wolverhampton Wanderers on Sunday a must-win game for Mikel Arteta and Arsenal as they look to put their appalling Premier League form behind them.
|🏴 Arsenal (Q) 🏆||4||4||0||0||12||2||+10||12|
|🇳🇴 Molde FK (Q)||4||2||0||2||4||8||-4||6|
|🇦🇹 SK Rapid Wien||4||2||0||2||8||7||+1||3|
|🇮🇪 Dundalk FC||4||0||0||4||5||12||-7||0|
13.) Rúnar Alex Rúarsson
17.) Cédric Soares
23.) David Luiz (Holding 45′)
20.) Shkodran Mustafi
15.) Ainsley Maitland-Niles
34.) Granit Xhaka (Ceballos 62′)
28.) Joe Willock (Tierney 75′)
24.) Reiss Nelson
19.) Nicolas Pépé
9.) Alexandre Lacazette (c) (Smith-Rowe 75′)
30.) Eddie Nketiah (Balogun 82′)
33.) Matt Macey
44.) Karl Jakob Hein
16.) Rob Holding
2.) Héctor Bellerín
3.) Kieran Tierney
66.) Miguel Azeez
41.) Ben Cottrell
8.) Dani Ceballos
32.) Emile Smith-Rowe
38.) Folarian Balogun
Molde FK team:
1.) Andreas Linde
20.) Henry Wingo
5.) Sheriff Sinyan
6.) Stian Rode Gregersen (Knudtzon 85′)
3.) Birk Risa (Holmgren-Pedersen 82′)
17.) Fredrik Aursnes
16.) Etzaz Hussain (Bolly 61′)
19.) Erik Hestad
7.) Magnus Wolff Eikrem (c) (Brynhildsen 81′)
11.) Martin Ellingsen
10.) Leke James (Omoijuanfo 61′)
Molde FK subs:
12.) Álex Cranix
26.) Mathias Eriksen Ranmark
27.) Marcus Holmgren-Pedersen
14.) Erling Knudtzon
15.) Tobias Christensen
22.) Ola Brynhildsen
30.) Mathis Bolly
99.) Ohi Omoijuanfo