Nicolas Pepe banishes the demons as Folarin Balogun shows why Arsenal want to keep him

Simon Collings
·3-min read
 (NTB/AFP via Getty Images)
(NTB/AFP via Getty Images)

So, in the end, Mikel Arteta was right: this match against Molde really was the perfect moment for Nicolas Pepe to prove his doubters wrong.

The Ivorian’s critics were certainly growing after last weekend, when he was sent off against Leeds for butting heads with Ezgjan Alioski.

Even Arteta admitted Pepe’s actions were "unacceptable" and you wondered when we would next see him in an Arsenal shirt given he is banned for the next three Premier League games.

The winger is not suspended from the Europa League, though, and Arteta laid down the gauntlet to him by starting him against Molde after he apologised to the squad.

It was a direct challenge to Pepe and one he responded to in style.

This was hardly a classic match, few Europa League group games are, but Pepe did his best to be a bright spark.

His first-half contained the odd mazy run and neat trick, and then after the break he broke the deadlock with a lovely curling finish.

It was a typical finish from the 25-year-old who, for all his apparent flaws, seems to have a knack of being able to cut in from the right and find the top corner.

The goal will do Pepe a world of good and give him a much-needed confidence boost at a difficult time.

It set Arsenal on their way to victory and Pepe will hope it has set him on his way to getting his career in north London back on track.

Nelson stakes claim to start against Wolves

Arsenal FC via Getty Images
Arsenal FC via Getty Images

Reiss Nelson has had to wait for his chance this season, but with the busy festive schedule on the horizon he could be finding form at just the right time.

Pepe is suspended for Sunday’s game, while Bukayo Saka and Willian are both injury doubts. It leaves Arteta short on options out wide and Nelson has shown he is a genuine option.

For the first-half of this lacklustre game in Norway, the 20-year-old was about the only reason Arsenal supporters probably weren’t turning off their televisions.

The match was flat and quiet, but Nelson provided spark and creativity - something Arsenal have lacked in recent weeks.

He got his goal too, finishing off Joe Willock’s cross to put Arsenal 2-0 up and on their way to the knockout stages of the Europa League.

It was really no more than Nelson deserved from a fine performance that reminded Arteta he is ready to step up.

Balogun bags timely goal as Arsenal try to tie him down

Arteta spoke in the build-up to this match about his desire to keep hold of Folrian Balogun - and on this evidence we can see why.

The teenager’s contract with Arsenal is due to expire at the end of the season and the Gunners want to keep hold of him.

Balogun has been a shining light for Arsenal’s youth teams and he got his first senior goal on Thursday to showcase his potential.

It was a nice finish from the 19-year-old too, who collected the ball from Emile Smith Rowe and spun and turned in the box before firing under the Molde goalkeeper.

Arteta and Arsenal will hope that is a sight they see for many years to come.

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