Mikel Arteta was full of praise for goalscorers Nicolas Pepe and Folarin Balogun, as Arsenal recorded a 3-0 victory over Molde on Thursday night to ensure their place in the Europa League knockout stages.
The Gunners went into the match off the back of a couple of disappointing results in the Premier League and almost fell behind early on, with Molde defender Sheriff Sinyan somehow failing to convert from close range, the Gambian international looking to condone for his own goal in the reverse fixture.
The score remained goalless at half-time, yet the visitors were ahead soon after the interval, with Pepe shrugging off his weekend misdemeanour by expertly curling home following a Joe Willock cross. Willock was once again the provider just five minutes later, as the young Englishman whipped in a delicious low cross for Reiss Nelson to fire into the net.
The away side wrapped up all three points with less than ten minutes remaining, as 19-year-old striker Balogun bagged his first goal for the club off the bench, the England youth international turning well before rifling past ‘keeper Andreas Linde with what was just his first involvement in the game.
Despite impressively securing their place in the last-16 with two games to spare, the major story of the night was Pepe’s impressive all-round performance after previously leaving his manager fuming following his foolish dismissal in the 0-0 draw with Leeds on Sunday.
Nicolas Pépé for Arsenal vs. Molde:
◉ Most touches (80)
◉ Most crosses (12)
◉ Most touches in opp. box (11)
◉ Most take-ons completed (9) (!)
◉ Most shots (6)
◉ Most chances created (4)
= Most shots on target (2)
Redeemed himself yet? pic.twitter.com/PfGiPcpPzM
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) November 26, 2020
It was all smiles this time around for Arteta, however, with the Spaniard revealing he was thoroughly impressed with what he saw from the forward.
”Yes I am really pleased. After the disappointment you want to see something stand-out really quickly and I could see from the first minute his body language that he was ready to act,” Arteta told his post-match press conference.
”I think he had a great performance. He scored a goal. He could have scored another one or two, 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.”
The other positive note for the Gunners was the well-taken goal from young Balogun, who has been rumoured with a move away from the club after having as yet failed to sign a new deal. Despite that speculation, the Arsenal boss was delighted that the striker took his chance and revealed that the player will hopefully remain at the Emirates.
‘Well deserved for the boy,” Arteta stated.
”He’s working really hard as well. He had some difficult months as well. We had some speculation around him. He’s handled the situation in a really mature way.
”He wants to stay, we want him to stay. We gave him the opportunity and he took it straight away.”
Arsenal are up against Wolves next in the Premier League on Sunday.
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