Molde FK (0) 0 Arsenal (0) 3
UEFA Europa League, Group B, Matchday 4 of 6
Aker Stadium, Julsundveien 14, 6412 Molde, Norway
Thursday, 26th November 2020. Kick-off time: 5.55pm
(4-2-3-1) Alex Rúnarsson; Cédric Soares, David Luiz, Shkodran Mustafi, Ainsley Maitland-Niles; Joe Willock, Granit Xhaka; Reiss Nelson, Nicolas Pépé, Eddie Nketiah; Alexandre Lacazette.
Substitutes: Hector Bellerin, Kieran Tierney, Dani Ceballos, Rob Holding, Emile Smith-Rowe, Matt Macey, Folarin Balogun, Ben Cottrell, Karl Hein, Miguel Azeez.
Scorers: Nicolas Pépé (50 mins), Reiss Nelson (55 mins), Folarin Balogun (82 mins)
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 49%
Referee: Irfan Peljto (Bosnia)
Assistant Referees: Senad Ibrisimbegović (Bosnia), Davor Beljo (Bosnia)
Fourth Official: Admir Šehović (Bosnia)
Referee Observer: Haim Jakov (Israel)
Attendance: A minimal amount of attendees (circa 3,000) due to coronavirus restructions
For today’s match in Norway the early signs are good, inasmuch as that we have only been defeated once in our previous fourteen away games in the group stages of a major European competition, which was against FC Cologne back in November 2017. Nicolas Pépé keeps his place in the starting line-up; it is to be remembered that no other Arsenal player has scored more goals (two), made more assists (two), taken more shots (eleven) or created more chances (eight) than he has in the Europa League this season. Interestingly enough, there are some new names among the substitutes tonight; let’s hope that some of our “Young Guns” get the opportunity to shine at some point in the match. Let’s go!
After the obligatory minute’s silence in memory of the late, great Diego Maradona, who passed away yesterday, the match got underway with Arsenal applying pressure immediately on the home side. The game settled down quite well, to be fair, and despite having the run of the early chances, Molde held their own well, under the circumstances. After a Nicolas Pépé wild shot went over the bar following a corner, the home side nearly scored when the ball went loose in our six yard box, just a foot or so from the line, and Sheriff Sinyan’s shot was picked up comfortably by Alex Rúnarsson. After twenty minutes, Nicolas Pépé collected the ball from Granit Xhaka on the halfway line, and run towards the Molde goal. His final attempt was not a million miles away, but the run itself was impressive, and he tried extremely hard to open the scoring. Alexandre Lacazette then wasted a very good chance, and the game started to look rather pedestrian; Reiss Nelson tried to walk the ball into the net to no avail, and as the minutes ticked away from a tepid and uninspiring first half, it became patently obvious to all and sundry that we are going to have to do a lot better in the second half.
For the second half, Rob Holding replaced David Luiz, who was the recipient of a head injury at the end of the first half. The pace of the two teams in this half was certainly quicker, and within three minutes of the restart, Nicolas Pépé was desperately unlucky not to score, when his twenty yard shot bounced off the crossbar. However, it made no difference, as he scored a fabulous goal a couple of minutes later when he collected a ball from Joe Willock on the right side of the penalty area, controlled it, and placed the ball into the top left corner of the net. Fabulous goal. And now we finally started to take control of the match. Eddie Nketiah’s well-taken goal was cancelled out for offside, but shortly afterwards Reiss Nelson made no mistake in scoring our second goal of the night, just ten minutes after the start of the second half when he fired in a shot from close range, after a low, hard cross from Joe Willock. The game started to open up now, with quicker movements both on and off the ball, with chances made and missed. Just after the hour, Dani Ceballos replaced Granit Xhaka, and consolidation became the name of the game now. Alexandre Lacazette was unlucky not to score with a superb right-footed shot, and as the last twenty minutes of the game unfolded, our confidence became apparent. Joe Willock was substituted for Kieran Tierney, whilst young Emile Smith-Rowe replaced Alexandre Lacazette in a double substitution after seventy-six minutes, and the change in formation with the new players suited our style at this stage in the game. Another youngster, Folarin Balogun, replaced Eddie Nketiah, and a less than a minute later, scored his first goal for the club (and our third of the night), when Kieran Tierney crossed a ball from the left to Emile Smith-Rowe, who passed it over to Folarin Balogun, who turned and scored with a superbly well-placed goal. From then onwards, the match was finished, and it was just a matter of time before referee Irfan Peljto blew the whistle and brought proceedings to a close.
The disappointing first half aside, this match showcased our talents throughout the depth of the squad perfectly. We won this match handsomely, we qualified for the next stage of the Europa Cup and our second half performance was as good as any that we have played this season. Nicolas Pépé redeemed himself with a superb performance (and a goal), Joe Willock, Eddie Nketiah and Reiss Nelson were fabulous, and the two youngsters which came on as substitutes made an excellent impression on everyone. Less pressure on us for the final two matches in this group, and we can concentrate more on other things. Like the Premier League.
Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as this season is going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Our next match: Wolverhampton Wanderers at the Emirates on Sunday, 29th November at 7.15pm (Premier League).Victoria Concordia Crescit.
Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon.