Molde 0 Arsenal 3 - Europa League Matchday Four
Kevin Whitcher gives us his take on the Gunners victory in Norway on Thursday evening.
Mikel Arteta fielded a very attacking team for this away match in Scandinavia.
Four forwards (although Lacazette played behind Eddie Nketiah in an Ozil-style role) with Joe Willock one of the two central midfielders. Arteta seems to be favouring a back four now that defensively things have - for the most part - tightened a little. In fairness bookies such as Bet365 were offering long odds on anything but an away win, so there was no justification for three central defenders in a match where Arsenal were always likely to be on the front foot.
There was a socially distanced smattering of supporters, who made plenty of noise in the echo of a sparsely populated stadium, and even one attendee in an Arsenal shirt.
There are probably a good number of Molde fans who have the Gunners as their English team. None of this attending in bubbles though – everyone had two empty seats either side of them.
It should be different at the Emirates next Thursday, with pre-registered groups of up to four season ticket holders allowed to sit next to one another.
The pitch was plastic, although things have come a long way since the days of QPR, Luton Town and Oldham back in the 1980s.
The surface played fairly true. Arsenal’s first half saw the main source of danger in attack through the combinations of Reiss Nelson and Ainsley Maitland-Niles down the left flank, although when chances came they tended to miss the target, Pepe probably the worst culprit in the first half.
Mind you, Molde had by far the best opportunity to open the scoring, their midfielder Sinyan conspiring to put the ball into Runarsson's hands with the goal gaping, and possibly ending his chances of fatherhood as he collided with the post. Talking on injuries, David Luiz took a knock a little before the interval, which saw Rob Holding replace him for the second half.
It has to be said that the more I see of Eddie Nketiah, the less I believe he will be a fixture at the club long term. An honest player, he simply does not have the requisite quality to lead the line. Against Molde, he had the space and time to make an impact, but his ability to put the ball in the net was lacking, except when he was caught offside. In fairness to Eddie, he didn’t cost what Alex Lacazette did, or indeed Pepe.
Nketiah will get more chances in this competition, but you do feel that time is running out, given the position he is played in, he has had enough chances. He got experience under his belt on loan at Leeds but ultimately, they preferred to go with Patrick Bamford to ensure their promotion, and there is a view that Eddie’s level is a Championship player. He is 21 years old now.
I was pondering whether to attempt to buy one of the 2,000 tickets to see the match against Rapid Vienna next Thursday, and ultimately decided I would so as to avoid having to listen to Karen Carney do the analysis next week.
I have nothing against female pundits, but I really struggle with pundits that offer merely obvious description and zero insight. Carney is no Gary Neville.
Pepe hit the bar (“That was going in,” Carney informed us – except the keeper didn't get a touch, so how could it have been?), but soon after he opened his account. It was two within five minutes as fitness began to tell and Joe Willock teed up Reiss Nelson. Subs were made and eventually we had a few minutes of Emile Smith Rowe and Folarin Balogun (both of whom I hope get starts in the remaining two group games). They combined nicely to make it 3-0 on the night.
It took time to come good, but eventually Arsenal outclassed their Norwegian hosts as they did in the first match against them at the Emirates. Qualification is secured for the next round, almost certainly as group winners, barring a freak result in Ireland, so let’s see the kids get a bit more exposure in the next two midweeks please Mikel.
Next week is going to be surreal with 2,000 fans in the Emirates for a first team game, whether you are there or not.
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