Arsenal clinched a spot in the knockout stages with a 3-0 win at Molde. Arsenal need a meager point or for Rapid Wien to drop a point in their last three matches to clinch first in the group. It’s 99% job done in the Europa League group stage, which goes a long way to easing some of the upcoming fixture congestion.
Tonight’s game played out similarly to the first meeting between the two sides — Molde kept it close in the first half, Arsenal blew it open in the second. I’ve got some quick thoughts on the match before I eat way more Thanksgiving food than I should.
- Reiss Nelson was Arsenal’s best player on the pitch tonight. Glad he got a goal. Hopefully he gets some Premier League time, because he really can’t be any worse than Willian has been of late.
- Solid bounce-back performance from Nicolas Pépé. Looked dangerous all match and was Arsenal’s second-best attacker. He’s still a bit wasteful of chances and loose on the ball, but he scored a good goal and brings shooting ability that Arsenal sorely need.
- Big congratulations to Folarin Balogun, who scored his first Arsenal senior goal just 37 seconds after coming onto the pitch. Lovely first-time turn, second touch finish from him. David Ornstein recently reported that he and Arsenal have resumed negotiations to keep him at the club.
- Both the second and third goals were set up by midfielders running beyond the attackers and deep into the box — Joe Willock on the first, Emile Smith Rowe on the second. Yes, it’s Molde, but the Arsenal attack could do with a lot more movement and runs from deeper positions.
- Shout out to Emile Smith Rowe for picking up an assist on the Arsenal third goal. The guy has unfortunately picked up the Abou Diaby / Jack Wilshere mantle of “player who always gets hurt at the wrong time in unlucky ways” at the club. Hopefully, he can stay healthy and get some more playing time in the upcoming dead-rubber group stage matches.
- Granit Xhaka had a strong match. His passing was precise, and he spread the ball around like were used to seeing him do when he’s in-form.
- Alexandre Lacazette had another stinker of a match. I don’t know what’s wrong with him, whether it’s fitness, confidence, or what, but he’s been dreadful for several matches. I want him to re-discover his form, but right now, I don’t see how he plays in the Premier League fixtures.
- What on earth is Mikel Arteta doing bringing on Kieran Tierney up 2-0? The guy is a critical part of the first-team setup, he’s got a checkered injury history, and he has played a lot of football recently. Would have preferred for him to stay on the bench.
All told, it was a successful evening for the Gunners. Nobody got seriously hurt (I’m assuming David Luiz’s substitution was a head-injury precaution), and they wrapped up qualification to the knockout stage. Hopefully Mikel Arteta uses the remaining two Europa League matches to give some of the younger guys more playing time.
Have a Happy Thanksgiving, y’all! Arsenal are back in action on Sunday against Wolves.