Nicolas Pepe made the opposition defence dance as Arsenal beat Molde 4-1 at the Emirates in the UEFA Europa League on Thursday.
With both Arsenal and Molde unbeaten in the Europa League in the tournament leading up to Thursday’s game, the precedent was upon the hosts to continue their winning run in the competition as they got ready to host the Norwegian outfit.
The start of the game was far from ideal for the Gunners, though, as Molde managed to match them stride to stride, winning turnovers in their defensive third and then releasing quick passes. The visitors also managed to strike first after a Bernd Leno goal kick failed to reach its target, eventually snuck in at the far post by Martin Ellingsen, evading the German shot-stopper.
Arsenal did not take too much time to reply, though, going all guns blazing with the ball. Several chances created by Nicolas Pepe and Willian proved to be unfruitful when eventually a cut-back from Eddie Nketiah crept in to bulge the net following an unintentional touch from Kristoffer Haugen.
✅ Three games
✅ Three wins
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) November 5, 2020
You could rule out the first own goal as bad luck for Molde, but history repeated itself in the second half when Granit Xhaka and Joe Willock combined to force another one home, this time by substitute Sheriff Sinyan. The scoreline was no less than what Arsenal deserved, but the own goals were a harsh aftermath on what was, in fact, some tremendous defending by the visitors.
Pepe got awarded for his brilliant display when Bukayo Saka found him unmarked on the edge of the box. The Ivorian made no mistake as he tucked the ball home, giving Andreas Linde no chance. This seemed enough to put the game out of Moldes’s reach, but Willock put the final nail in the coffin through a sublime finish in the dying minutes of the game. The Hard Tackle now runs the rule over Mikel Arteta’s men.
Bernd Leno: 7/10
It would be harsh to penalise Leno for the turnover that led to the opener from Molde, when in fact the clearance crossed the half-way line. Apart from that, he did not really have a lot to do, making three saves, two of which came from shots taken at impossibly acute angles.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles: 7.5/10
Maitland-Niles was a force on the right flank for Arsenal, never missing a beat in the game, throughout his one hour on the pitch. He won 100% (3/3) of his ground duels and won two free-kicks in the Gunners’ attacking third. Furthermore, he lost possession only thrice throughout the game.
Shkodran Mustafi: 7/10
After the initial threat posed by Molde, it was a relatively quiet night for Mustafi as the visitors’ left flank failed to create any danger.
David Luiz: 7/10
It was a game of the opposite ends of a spectrum for David Luiz, as he failed to do much defensively, even giving away two free-kicks, where he was lucky to escape a booking. On the other hand, he played his part in the attack with two key passes, intelligent runs and even created a big chance.
Sead Kolasinac: 6/10
Kolasinac’s days in the Arsenal starting XI, even in cup games seem limited right now, after the Bosnian failed to deliver yet again. He made no more than one interception and one tackle while missing one of the easiest chances of the game. Not to mention his long ball or crossing accuracy, both at no more than 33% for the night (1/3).
Joe Willock: 9/10
How impressed were you with Joe Willock last night? pic.twitter.com/mTcr4S3Fn6
— AFTV (@AFTVMedia) November 6, 2020
Willock started on the right of a very attacking midfield triumvirate, acting in the capacity of a box-to-box midfielder. His runs into the box throughout the game were excellent and constantly opened up space either for himself or his teammates.
Additionally, he also created two chances, one of which was converted by Sheriff Sinyan. Eventually, he got his goal in the last two minutes of the game with a stunning finish into the top right corner of the net.
Dani Ceballos: 8.5/10
Even though Ceballos is yet to cement his starting spot in the league, he continues to shine for Arsenal in Europe. The Spaniard started as the deepest midfielder in centre of the park, dictating play from deep. Yet, he managed to create two chances from deep positions and completed 5/5 (100%) of his long balls. Did his job defensively as well, intercepting three passes and making two successful tackles.
Granit Xhaka: 8/10
The Gunner midfield did everything right against Molde, from creating chances to defending and scoring. Xhaka played an important role in this as well, as he completed 7/8 long passes, made two interceptions and two successful tackles. Moreover, he made no mistake in combining with Willock to create the goal that took Arsenal ahead.
Nicolas Pepe: 9.5/10
No Arsenal player has more goal involvements than Nicolas Pepe this season (5).
All Pepe need now is a consistent run of starts and confidence will come back. pic.twitter.com/5yTXjWiyIY
— AfcVIP⁴⁹ (@VipArsenal) November 5, 2020
To call Nicolas Pepe unlucky against Molde would be quite apt, as he made four key passes, creating two big chances in the process – one each missed by Willock and Nketiah. The 25-year-old has clearly matured with each passing game and contributes more to what the team needs him to do.
Eventually, though, Pepe got what he deserved from the game – a part of it anyway – scoring the third of the night with a top-notch finish followed by a well-timed run. He added to his tally of one assist in the Europa League in the 88th minute of the game when he let Willock through on goal, who made no mistake this time.
Eddie Nketiah: 5/10
Nketiah did help Arsenal get their equaliser in the game, but his performance in front of goal was abysmal as he missed two 1v1s and failed to successfully square an easy pass to Willian in the second half.
One of the least involved players in the game, Willian did well when he got the ball, making two key passes and completing 2/2 of his ground duels.
Bukayo Saka: 7/10
Saka came into the game to play the last half an hour and made his impact almost immediately, squaring the pass to Pepe for the third goal. Post that, he barely put a foot wrong.
⏱ 64’ – Subbed on
⏱ 69’ – Assists Nico
? @BukayoSaka87 ?
? #UEL pic.twitter.com/FL8WPVCBHv
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) November 5, 2020
Cedric Soares: 5/10
Subbed on the exact time as Saka, he failed to mirror the Englishman’s impact in the game, losing possession seven times even though he touched the ball no more than 19 times.
Mohamed Elneny: N/A
Came on in the last ten minutes to help see the game out.
Kieran Tierney: N/A
A late introduction, Tierney helped see out the game.
5 out of 10?
Nketiah had a perfectly good goal disallowed. He assisted for both ‘own goals’, and for Willock’s goal he draws the central defender, thus creating the space for Willock to run into and score…
That’s not a 5 out of 10 performance by any stretch.