Folarin Balogun’s first senior goal for Arsenal and a quickfire double from Nicolas Pepe and Reiss Nelson saw Arsenal confirm their place in the last 32 of the Europa League on a freezing cold night in Norway, beating Molde 3-0
A fairly quiet but even first half saw both sides have chances – but whilst Sheriff Sinyan managed to miss when it seemed easier to score, the visitors also had chances with Pepe curling the best of them wide.
After hitting the crossbar early in the second half, Pepe curled in an effort from about eight yards out to make it three goals in four Europa League games, and Nelson doubled the lead after Joe Willock’s excellent cross.
Alexandre Lacazette put in an industrious, albeit quiet performance, but eventually the youngster Balogun notched a first for the club in only his second performance.
For all that was written about the stalemate at Elland Road, Mikel Arteta was keen to rest and rotate ahead of a hectic winter schedule – especially as victory in Norway would confirm Arsenal’s progression beyond the group stages once more.
Neither team could claim to truly have the better of the opening 45 minutes – with Nelson impressing after being given only a sixth appearance of the season.
Sinyan contrived to miss an effort as he slid in at the far post with an open goal – but his effort went back across the goalmouth and was well kept out by Alex Runnarson in the Arsenal goal, before the Molde player collided with the post in a rather unfortunate manner.
But the Gunners also had their chances, Pepe curling the best of the efforts wide of the post, whilst Nelson was unable to beat the host’s shot stopper.
Early in the second half, Pepe’s curling effort from 25 yards smashed off the underside of the crossbar as the Ivorian continued his with an impressive attitude to partly atone for his weekend red card.
He followed up by curling an effort beyond the grasp of Linde in the host’s goal – and Arsenal thought the lead was doubled when Eddie Nketiah tapped in, only to see his effort ruled out for a tight, albeit correctly called, offside.
It wasn’t long before Arsenal did double the lead, as Willock’s low cross across the penalty area was tucked away by Nelson for his first club goal since a pre season friendly against MK Dons.
In a rather quiet game for Lacazette, there was one impressive chance which Linde was forced to save smartly across his goal, whilst Molde substitute Mathis Bolly curled an effort just over the Arsenal crossbar.
On his second appearance for the club, Balogun managed to complete an impressive counter attack – set up by Emile Smith-Rowe, the soon to be out of contract youngster took a touch, turned, and put an effort beyond the goalkeeper.
The result sees Arsenal top Group B, with 12 points to Molde’s 6 – guaranteeing the side’s progression to the knockout stages ahead of hosting Rapid Vienna next week, and a trip to Ireland to face Dundalk.
Man of the Match: Nicolas Pepe
Molde: Lindo, James (Omoijuanfo 51′), Wolf Eikrem (Brynhildsen 81′), Hestad, Hussain (Bolly 61′), Ellingsen, Aursnes, Risa (Pedersen 81′), Sinyan, Gregersen (Knudtzon 85′), Wingo
Substitutes not used: Crannix, Ranmark, Mostrom, Christensen
Arsenal: Runarsson, Cedric, Mustafi, Luiz (Holding HT), Maitland-Niles, Willock (Tierney 75′), Xhaka (Ceballos 62′), Nelson, Pepe, Nketiah (Balogun 82′), Lacazette (Smith-Rowe 75′)
Substitutes not used: Macey, Hein, Bellerin, Azeez, Cottrell