Result: Arsenal 4-1 Molde
Competition: Europa League
Date: 5 November 2020
Venue: Emirates Stadium
Arsenal: Leno, Maitland-Niles, Mustafi, Luiz, Kolasinac, Willian, Xhaka, Ceballos, Pepe, Willock, Nketiah
Subs: Runarsson, Macey, Bellerin, Tierney, Gabriel, Saka, Lacazette, Aubameyang, Holding, Partey, Cedric, Elneny
Arsenal are well-placed to qualify early from Europa League Group B after coming from to beat Norwegian side Molde 4-1 at the Emirates.
The visitors took the lead against the run of play through Martin Ellingsen’s well-taken effort but two own goals by the visitors either side of the break put the Gunners back in charge.
As Molde tired, Nicolas Pepe and Joe Willock added a gloss to proceedings with decisive finishes having both squandered earlier opportunities.
Mikel Arteta made a raft of changes from the side that beat Manchester United at the weekend. Bernd Leno and Willian were the only players to retain their place. Amongst the nine changes, David Luiz returned from injury to partner Shkodran Mustafi, Xhaka and Ceballos partnered up in midfield and Pepe, Willock and Nketiah made up our attacking threat. Reiss Nelson, who impressed last week against Dundalk, missed out with a minor knee problem. The big guns made up the bench.
Much like last week’s clash against Dundalk, this was not exactly a pulsating affair. The visitors set up with a low block and were happy to cede control of possession for long periods.
To be fair, Arsenal started quite brightly. On 3 minutes Willock flashed a ball to the near post looking for Nketiah who couldn’t connect and two minutes later, the striker, found by Pepe, tried a dinked effort that cleared the Molde keeper but was heading wide before a defender made sure by clearing for a corner.
Having weathered that early storm, the visitors were relatively comfortable. The Gunners passing lacked zip and accuracy and first touches went awry just enough for Norwegian legs to give us a kick and force us back. It was really quite boring.
To spice things up, Molde took an unexpected lead. Seemingly bored of playing triangles with his defenders in his own box, Leno hoofed a ball up towards Nketiah and probably expected it would stay there. Inside 10 second he was picking it out of his net. After winning the initial header, Molde played a quick pass to wide player Ellingsen, who, just outside the box, set himself and curled home a very tidy left foot effort. (0-1)
The German looked suitably pissed off. Arteta, wearing an incredibly shiny puffer jacket, likewise. In the ensuing minutes, the Spaniard could be heard screaming at his players to press high.
Ceballos started to pull the strings. First finding Willian down the left with a smart pass – the Brazilian’s cutback was blocked – and then nearly finding Pepe with a penetrating ball through the middle of the Molde defence.
A couple of minutes before the break, we thought we had our equaliser. Patient build up saw us work an opening for Pepe, who from the left, played a teasing ball across the six-yard box where Nketiah, in front of Willock, bundled the ball home. Unfortunately, the flag had gone up for offside. The goal should have stood – Nketiah was onside – but there was no VAR to check.
Thankfully, it didn’t matter. In stoppage time, a slick counter-attack ended with Kristoffer Haugen bundling into his own net. Pepe had done well to pounce on a loose corner by Molde and Willian, Xhaka and Nketiah combined to work the ball down the pitch with five passes. (1-1)
Keep wide and stretch the play was the message from the dugout at the start of the second period. You could tell we’d also been asked to play quicker.
The passing was better, we made more one-touch combinations, teased Molde in and around their box, but an end product was lacking. When we did create a clear cut chance on 54 minutes, Kolasinac made a total mess of things; blazing over from a couple of yards after the Molde keeper had made a hash trying to collect a Willock cross.
On the plus side, Molde decided that if we couldn’t score, they’d do it for us. Having already put through their net once, substitute Sheriff Sinyan repeated the trick on 62 minutes, slicing in a Willock cross after the England under-21 international had latched onto a dinked pass by Xhaka. It was comical defending. (2-1)
Pepe took matters into his own hands after that. First, he met a Kolasinac cross on the volley that was easily saved and then he tried a long-range curler. At the third time of asking, he finally made an effort count. Saka, on as a sub, pulled back to the Ivorian, who connected sweetly on the run from the edge of the box. (3-1)
There were chances to further extend our lead. Keeper Linde denied Willock with his legs, Nketiah’s diving header went wide and Saka, who was offside, deflected a Cedric cross onto the post. Our number 7 missed another chance, again with the flag up, as he made himself busy off the left flank.
There was a scare at the other end when Leke James, via a Luiz deflection, hit the side netting but we responded quickly. Willock, who’d gone close moments before, smashed home after latching onto Pepe’s pass. (4-1)
All in all, a decent night’s work after a slow start. To be honest, against this calibre of opposition, you’d expect nothing less.