In the end, it was a comfortable win for Arsenal over Molde FK at a chilly Emirates stadium, but it didn’t start out that way. The visitors were mostly able to frustrate the Gunners in the first half, who, as has frequently been the case this season, lacked ideas and/or precision in the final third. But Arsenal roared back in the second half and bossed the play, in large part due to a fantastic game from Joe Willock.
Molde opened the scoring in the 22nd minute when a long Arsenal clearance came back down the Gunners’ end quickly and Martin Ellingsen curled a very nice shot into the bottom corner from distance. I think Bernd Leno probably should do better on shots of that length and may have had his vision obscured a bit, but we shouldn’t take too much away from a great shot.
The Gunners looked to have leveled the score when Eddie Nketiah steered home a Nicolas Pepe cross, but the goal was incorrectly ruled out for offside. Joe Willock, who was offside, was directly behind Nketiah but never touched the ball. From the linesman’s perspective, it may have looked as if Willock scored, but he didn’t. Professional referees really should be getting calls like that correct. There should also be VAR in the Europa League, but I digress.
Not to be deterred, Arsenal kept attacking. They got their equalizer a few minutes later. Granit Xhaka, who was ostensibly playing LCB, found himself leading a counter. He slipped a ball through for Pepe, who cut it back across towards a streaking Joe Willock, and the ball was bumbled into the net by a falling Kristoffer Haugen. It was a karmic own goal because Haugen had pulled Willock back significantly on the break, and but for the pull back, Willock would have been free to tap it in himself.
The second half was all Arsenal, in part because Mikel Arteta made the formation more aggressive. Granit Xhaka was given more license to push up the pitch with Sead Kolasinac and Ainsley Maitland-Niles playing more of an inverted fullback role for defensive cover. The imbalance created by the shift and Joe Willock’s constant forward runs proved too much. Willock created another own goal. Substitute Bukayo Saka picked out Nicolas Pepe for a third, and Willock finally got a goal for himself off a lovely ball from substitute Mohamed Elneny.
I can’t say enough about Joe Willock’s performance tonight. He was the best player on the pitch.
Joe Willock made the most tackles (4), contested the most duels (17) and had the joint most shots (4) in the game.— Orbinho (@Orbinho) November 5, 2020
He also completed 93% of his passes, scored one goal and forced two others through his persistence.
Nicolas Pepe had a good shift, too. He’s so strange to watch because he’ll easily lose the ball on the dribble or disappear for 15 minutes at a time, but then he’ll score a great goal, pick up an assist, and a should-have-been assist.
And you can’t forgot our good pal Owen Goal, who notched a brace. In all seriousness, you don’t get own goals without pushing the ball into the opponent’s area and creating chances. So it doesn’t totally matter who puts the ball into the back of the net so long as you’re creating the opportunities for it to go in.
The Gunners are in firm control of Group B on 9 points. A win away to Molde at the end of the month would put them through to the knockout stage. Arsenal face Aston Villa on Sunday before the international break.