Match Report: Molde 0 – 3 Arsenal

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.

Steve

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.

Time running out for 3 Hale End products as Arsenal look to secure Europa League qualification

Morning all.

Today we face Molde in the Europa League.

Victory would see The Arsenal move to 12 points and guarantee qualification into the knock-out stages. If Rapid Wien fail to beat Dundalk, we will also secure top spot with 2 games to go.

The Europa League has not seen Mikel Arteta put out a vast number of youngsters that we have seen in previous years.

This is a nod to how much stronger our squad is that our 2nd XI now is, filled with senior internationals, and highlights how many of our top youngsters are no longer really considered youngsters.

We could put out a side containing Kieran Tierney, Gabriel, Bukayo Saka, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Joe Willock, Emile Smith Rowe, Reiss Nelson, Eddie Nketiah and Gabriel Martinelli and it would not feel like we have fielded a side of kids, even though every single one is still eligible to play for the U23 side.

It is important to get the balance of progression right. We want to see the likes of Folarin Balogun, Miguel Azeez and Ben Cottrell get a run out, but we also need to ensure the 2nd string are match sharp.

A couple of the youngsters expected to play are now playing for their future at Arsenal.

Reiss Nelson has not really done it since breaking into the Arsenal first team squad in 2017.

He had a decent loan spell at 1899 Hoffenheim but has failed to kick on.

Some will say “he has not had the game time” but with Nicolas Pepe’s form since his arrival, he would have got his chance if he was showing enough on the training ground.

“But he has spent a lot of time injured” is another defence of the youngster, but that should fall on deaf ears.

There is no point have the talent of Lionel Messi if you have the injury record of Darren Anderton.

Your top players are not only talented but also fairly physically robust. How many small, niggling injuries he has had at such a young age is a worry.

He reminds me a lot of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. That he might be talented but he will never remain fit enough to put together a run of half a dozen games to kick on.

Compare him to the kid a couple of years junior on the other side of the pitch.

Bukayo Saka has forced his way into the team due to his performances, and has stayed fit. He is now a regular for Arsenal and England, and is now levels ahead of Nelson.

Saka shows that if you are good enough, you get your chance. It might just be that Nelson is not good enough, and in the summer we should look to cash in, reinvest, and focus on the next rising star in the academy.

Likewise Eddie Nketiah is at a bit of a crossroads.

Nketiah is a goal poacher, but his problem is a modern striker needs to be able to do more – whether that be creating, holding the ball up or running the channels.

Eddie is 22 at the end of this year. With Gabriel Martinelli returning from injury and Balogun and Nikolaj Moller performing well at U23 level, time might be running out if he does not kick on to the next level.

Arsenal could sell Nketiah and Nelson in the summer, raising close to £40million as sides buy them based on their potential. This could be key funds to be reinvest in senior players, with the likes of Martinelli and Balogun stepping up to replace them.

Joe Willock is another one who might have peaked.

He has performed will in the Europa League in recent years but not taken that form into the Premier League. He is another the club might cash in on next summer, and start focusing on the likes of Azeez and Charlie Patino.

It would be a tough decision to let all 3 youngsters go, but if their developments has levelled out, then they should be moved on. Raising £50m+ in the sales of 3 academy products should be seen as a positive.

Arsenal would have additional funds to spend on superior players, and it frees the path for the next crop of youngsters to get their chance.

Hopefully all 3 put in top performances tonight, we win 6-0, Nketiah hat trick, 2 for Willock and one for Nelson.

Keenos

Arsenal playing with the handbrake on, but Mikel Arteta is the man to get us into top gear

November has been a peculiar month for Arsenal. It started with what felt like a landmark victory at Old Trafford, the Gunners’ first league win there in 14 years and it has rather stalled since.

Rather than showing definitive progress in the games that followed, Mikel Arteta’s men have struggled to shake off the inconsistency that has been a hallmark of their 2020/21 season so far, demonstrated by a record of four wins, four defeats and a draw from their first nine Premier League matches.

It would be all too easy to take a pessimistic view of the Gunners’ last game. A 0-0 draw to a newly promoted team never looks like a satisfactory score line, particularly when Leeds amassed 25 shots on goal.

However, when you factor in Arsenal’s away record against last season’s promoted clubs (Sheffield United, L, 0-1. Norwich City D, 2-2. Aston Villa, L, 0-1) and that they played the majority of the second half with ten men following Nicolas Pépé’s red card, Arteta deserves credit for being able to secure a point.

The next three matches are of pivotal importance to Arsenal, presenting a great opportunity for Arteta to gain some much-needed momentum.

Qualification as winners of Group B in the Europa League could be secured with a win at Molde on Thursday. A handsome win against Wolves on Sunday could propel Arsenal to as high as sixth before the all-important North London derby on 5 December.

Tottenham have two successive London derbies, playing Chelsea before the visit of Arsenal. Although Spurs currently sit top of the table, if they were to lose their next two league games and Arsenal were to win both of theirs, the gap between the two teams would close to just one point.

Needless to say, the next ten days could be an extremely important period, not just in the context of Arsenal’s season but in Arteta’s reign as Arsenal manager.

There is good reason to believe the Spaniard can turn things around once again. Not only did he resurrect a team that was buried in the rubble to the heights of FA Cup winners, but he has ensured that his Arsenal team will not be easy to beat.

At this stage last year, Unai Emery had overseen his last Premier League game, a 2-2 draw at home to then-19th placed Southampton, who had just been thrashed 9-0 by Leicester. Arsenal were closer to the relegation zone than the top four, already a staggering 19 points behind eventual champions Liverpool.

Freddie Ljungberg was then appointed as caretaker manager, a role which he fulfilled for almost a month, before Arteta took over.

He has since laid the foundations for future success by building a solid base. Bernd Leno continues to prove himself as one of the Premier League’s best goalkeepers, whilst Gabriel has added some much-needed steel in defence.

A pressing priority for Arteta is to get Arsenal scoring again. Although his team have looked stout and secure for the most part, they have failed to blow teams away in attack, not scoring more than twice in the Premier League since the opening day of the season.

Football fans are a fickle bunch and those currently calling for Arteta’s head will be singing his name from the rooftops in just under two weeks if he can lead Arsenal to three successive victories.

Despite recent results suggesting otherwise, there should be little doubt amongst the Arsenal faithful that Arteta is the man to lead the club forward.

Zac Campbell