Mikel Arteta has challenged Nicolas Pepe to improve his consistency after the Arsenal winger reacted to Sunday’s red card against Leeds by helping the Gunners to cruise into the last 32 of the Europa League.
Pepe was accused by manager Arteta of letting down his team-mates after being sent off at Elland Road in the Premier League but Arsenal’s record signing responded with the opening goal in a fine individual display against Molde.
The £72m signing from Lille curled a powerful strike into the top corner just after the break in Norway – having minutes earlier struck the bar.
“I could see from the first minute, from his body language, that he was ready to act,” Arteta said. “I think he had a great performance.”
Pepe has struggled for consistency since joining in 2019 but now has three goals in four Europa League games this season – and Arteta wants more of the same.
“He created some great moments in the game and worked really hard for the team,” the Gunners boss added. “I really liked it. I am really pleased with that.
“We all know where his level is and all the time the question is how often he can get to that level – and how he contributes to other aspects of the game.
“Today is the example. That should be the level he needs to hit and from there he needs to keep improving.”
The victory over Molde in Norway maintained Arsenal’s perfect record in Group B and saw them progress to the knockout stage with two games to spare.
Reiss Nelson doubled the Gunners’ lead shortly after with a tap-in from close range, before 19-year-old substitute Folarin Balogun, who was making his second appearance for the club, scored with his first touch of the game.
Gunners find form in Norway
An away game in wintry Norway might not have seemed an ideal fixture for Arteta and Arsenal to face after a modest performance in the draw against Leeds and a sobering 3-0 home defeat by Aston Villa in the Premier League.
But Pepe, red-carded for a headbutt on Ezgjan Alioski on Sunday, looked keen to repay Arteta’s pre-match words of support with a bright performance.
The former Lille winger’s first moment of threat came when he sprinted down the left and cut inside to make space for a shot but fired over the bar.
He got closer with his next effort from outside the area as his curling drive hit the crossbar with Molde goalkeeper Linde beaten.
The club’s record signing, who will now start the first of his three-match domestic ban against Wolves, eventually got his third goal in the Europa League this season with a neat piece of control and shot.
Pepe’s strike gave Arsenal’s youthful side an injection of confidence and, after a dearth of goals in their previous two fixtures, suddenly Arteta’s side looked dangerous with every attack.
Nelson, who turns 21 in December, was a bright note from the start at the Arker Stadium as he linked up well with captain Alexandre Lacazette and got an early effort on target.
The winger was rewarded for his persistence as he doubled the advantage from the six-yard box and then Balogun, linked with a move from Arsenal in the summer, staked his claim for a new contract by scoring on only his second appearance for the Gunners.
Pepe a standout in Europa League – the stats
- Arsenal have won their opening four group matches in a European campaign for the first time since the 2005-06 season (in the Champions League, when they reached the final).
- Norwegian sides have lost their last five home meetings with English sides in all European competition by an aggregate score of 0-14.
- Since beating Sheffield United 2-1 at the start of October, 12 of Arsenal’s 13 goals in all competitions have come in the Europa League, with the exception being Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s penalty at Old Trafford in the Premier League.
- Nicolas Pepe has been directly involved in nine goals in his 10 Europa League games for Arsenal (5 goals & 4 assists), netting in each of his last three appearances in the competition.
- All four of Reiss Nelson’s goals for Arsenal have come in different competitions (Europa League, Premier League, FA Cup & League Cup).
- Folarin Balogun scored with his first ever attempt for Arsenal’s senior team.
Arsenal are home to Wolves on Sunday at 19:15 GMT, before hosting Rapid Vienna in their penultimate Europa League group game next Thursday (20:00).
- 6GregersenSubstituted forKnudtzonat 85′minutes
- 3RisaSubstituted forHolmgren Pedersenat 82′minutes
- 16HussainSubstituted forBollyat 61′minutes
- 7Wolff EikremSubstituted forBrynhildsenat 81′minutes
- 10JamesSubstituted forOmoijuanfoat 61′minutes
- 27Holmgren Pedersen
- 17Cédric Soares
- 23David LuizSubstituted forHoldingat 45′minutes
- 28WillockSubstituted forTierneyat 75′minutes
- 34XhakaSubstituted forCeballosat 62′minutes
- 9LacazetteSubstituted forSmith Roweat 75′minutes
- 30NketiahSubstituted forBalogunat 82′minutes
- 32Smith Rowe
Match ends, Molde 0, Arsenal 3.
Second Half ends, Molde 0, Arsenal 3.
Attempt blocked. Nicolas Pépé (Arsenal) left footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Dani Ceballos.
Offside, Arsenal. Cédric Soares tries a through ball, but Folarin Balogun is caught offside.
Attempt blocked. Fredrik Aursnes (Molde) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Henry Wingo.
Substitution, Molde. Erling Knudtzon replaces Stian Rode Gregersen.
Foul by Folarin Balogun (Arsenal).
Stian Rode Gregersen (Molde) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Goal! Molde 0, Arsenal 3. Folarin Balogun (Arsenal) right footed shot from the centre of the box to the centre of the goal. Assisted by Emile Smith Rowe.
Substitution, Arsenal. Folarin Balogun replaces Eddie Nketiah.
Substitution, Molde. Marcus Holmgren Pedersen replaces Birk Risa.
Substitution, Molde. Ola Brynhildsen replaces Magnus Wolff Eikrem.
Foul by Eddie Nketiah (Arsenal).
Sheriff Sinyan (Molde) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Attempt missed. Mathis Bolly (Molde) right footed shot from the centre of the box is just a bit too high. Assisted by Fredrik Aursnes.
Substitution, Arsenal. Emile Smith Rowe replaces Alexandre Lacazette.
Substitution, Arsenal. Kieran Tierney replaces Joseph Willock.
Joseph Willock (Arsenal) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Stian Rode Gregersen (Molde).
Attempt missed. Rob Holding (Arsenal) right footed shot from the centre of the box is close, but misses to the right. Assisted by Nicolas Pépé with a cross following a corner.
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