Pepe redeems himself as Arsenal book their place in Europa League knockouts
Winger bounces back from red card at Leeds by opening the scoring against Molde to help Gunners progress in Europe with two games to spare
26 November, 2020 — By Steve Barnett
Nicolas Pepe curled home Arsenal’s opener in their 3-0 away win over Molde
Europa League: Group B
ARSENAL 3 (Pepe 50, Nelson 55, Balogun 83)
NICOLAS Pepe redeemed his recent red card shame by helping Arsenal qualify for the knockout stages of the Europa League tonight (Thursday) with a 3-0 win over Molde.
Pepe, who was sent off for headbutting Leeds winger Ezgjan Alioski on Sunday, opened the scoring in Norway with a fine curling effort early in the second-half.
Reiss Nelson doubled Arsenal’s advantage with a tap-in from close range, before substitute Folarin Balogun wrapped up the win by scoring his first goal for the club with his first touch of the game.
Mikel Arteta said he was “really pleased” with the way Pepe has responded to what was without doubt a difficult.
The Arsenal boss added: “After the disappointment you want to see something stand-out really quickly and I could see from the first minute by his body language that he was ready to act.
“I think he had a great performance. He scored a goal. He could have scored another one or two, and he created some great moments in the game and worked really hard for the team. I really liked it and I’m so pleased for that.”
Arsenal started brightly at the Aker Stadium, but it was hosts Molde who should have taken the lead 15 minutes in.
Magnus Eikrem half-volleyed a brilliant ball across the six-yard box, but somehow centre-back Sheriff Sinyan squandered an open goal as he hit his shot straight at Gunners goalie Alex Runarsson.
It looked like it was going to be one of those nights where Pepe was simply trying too hard. Midway through the first-half he drove into the box from the left, but with the goal in his sights he fired well-wide.
The Gunners upped the tempo after the break and were almost instantly rewarded, but Pepe‘s thunderous strike from 25-yards came crashing back off the underside of the crossbar.
The Ivory Coast international was celebrating just two minutes later, however, when he found space in the box and confidently curled a finish into the top corner.
That opened the floodgates, with Nelson doubling the lead moments later. Joe Willock provided the width down the right, and it was his cross that Nelson thumped home.
There was just 37 seconds between Balogun entering the field and finding the back of the net. Emile Smith Rowe ghosted into the box down the left and picked out the striker, who turned quickly before finishing with aplomb.
The 3-0 victory maintained Arsenal’s perfect record in Group B and saw them progress to the knockout stage with two games to spare.
Molde: Linde, Wingo, Gregersen (Knudtzon, 85), Sinyan, Risa (Holmgren Pedersen, 82), Aursnes, Ellingsen, Hussain (Bolly, 61), Hestad, Wolff Eikrem (Brynhildsen, 81), James (Omoijuanfo, 61)
Substitutes not used: Mostrom, Craninx, Christensen, Ranmark
Arsenal: Runarsson, Cedric, David Luiz (Holding, 45), Mustafi, Maitland-Niles, Willock (Tierney, 75), Xhaka (Cebellos, 62), Nelson, Pepe, Nketiah (Balogun, 82), Lacazette (Smith Rowe, 75)
Substitutes not used: Macey, Hein, Bellerin, Cottrell, Azeez