By Rob Kelly
Nicolas Pepe delivered the perfect response after a tough week with a fine goal as we beat Molde to seal our place in the Europa League knockout stages.
The Ivorian was sent off for a headbutt at Leeds on Sunday, and issued a public apology for his actions – with Mikel Arteta stressing his belief in the player.
Pepe made the most of his chance to make immediate amends with a fine goal at the start of the second half, before Reiss Nelson added a second soon afterwards.
There was still time for Folarin Balogun, on the pitch for seconds, to score his first senior goal with a sharp finish and wrap up a good night in Norway.
The first half had been a much tighter affair, with the lively Nelson stinging the hands of the goalkeeper early on, while Pepe came close when he curled a shot just wide.
But the best chance of the opening 45 fell to the home side, when a Sheriff Sinyan threw himself at a fierce drive across goal but somehow could only divert his effort straight at Alex Runarsson from two yards out.
It was a real let off, but we made a brighter start to the second half as Pepe came close, sending a brilliant curling effort off the underside of the bar.
Less than 60 seconds later, the Ivorian did make the breakthrough, collecting a deep ball at the far post and sending the ball into the opposite top corner.
It was just reward for a positive, energetic attacking performance and we soon made it two as Joe Willock picked out Nelson in the box, who made no mistake from close range.
Alex Lacazette also went close, before Balogun came on eight minutes from the end and immediately opened his account with his first two touches of the ball.
There were to be no further goals though, as we made it four wins out of four and confirmed our place in the knockout stages with two games to spare.
HOW IT HAPPENED
WHAT IT MEANS
We’re back in Premier League action on Sunday evening as Wolves visit Emirates Stadium.
We follow that match with an historic day as we welcome around 2,000 fans back to the Emirates after nine months away, for our Europa League clash against Sporting Lisbon.
Copyright 2021 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source.