Nicolas Pepe was on the scoresheet as Arsenal won 3-0 at Molde to secure their place in the Europa League knockouts.
The winger was chastised for being sent off for a headbutt on Ezgjan Alioski during the 0-0 Premier League draw with Leeds United last Sunday.
Pepe was handed a chance for redemption by boss Mikel Arteta and duly responded with an impressive performance capped by a fine goal that broke the deadlock at Aker Stadion.
Reiss Nelson doubled the Gunners' lead and Folarin Balogun scored his first goal for the club as they made it four wins from four in Group B, of which they are almost certain to finish top.
Three goals. Three points.— Arsenal (@Arsenal) November 26, 2020
Into the round of with two games to spare!#UEL
Pepe was arguably Arsenal's brightest player in the first half as he attempted three shots and completed 100 per cent of his passes from the right wing.
Nelson had the Gunners' best opening but his low effort from Alexandre Lacazette's set-up was well saved by Andreas Linde with his foot.
The clearest chance of the half fell to Sheriff Sinyan, who slid in to meet Eirik Hestad's low cross with the goal at his mercy but somehow turned the ball back across the line and off goalkeeper Alex Runarsson.
Pepe rattled the crossbar with a spectacular strike just after the restart, but he had more luck with his next effort, placing a shot high past Linde from inside the box after pulling down Nelson's cross.
Eddie Nketiah had a tap-in disallowed for offside, but it was 2-0 before the hour mark, Nelson side-footing home from six yards after a low cross from Joe Willock.
Arteta took the chance to give game time to Emile Smith Rowe and Balogun off the bench, and the latter got his first senior goal with his second touch, turning well before firing through a disappointing attempted save.
What does it mean? Pepe leads Gunners into next round
Arsenal have 12 points from four games, leaving them six clear of Molde at the top of their group.
Their place in the last 32 is now guaranteed with two matches to spare and a point will be enough to ensure they finish top of the standings.
Molde will be overtaken by Rapid Vienna on goal difference if the Austrians beat Dundalk, who are without a point.
12/13 - Since beating Sheffield United 2-1 at the start of October, 12 of Arsenal’s 13 goals in all competitions have come in the UEFA Europa League, with the only exception being Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s penalty at Old Trafford in the Premier League. Progressing. #MOLARS pic.twitter.com/5O4ODipMEG— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) November 26, 2020
Pepe responds in style
Arsenal's record signing is facing a three-game Premier League ban but delivered the kind of response here his coach will have wanted.
Pepe attempted six shots and created four goalscoring chances, the most of anyone on the pitch.
A sore point for Sinyan
Molde played well in the first half and would have had a deserved lead had Sinyan managed to convert a chance that looked easier to score than miss.
To make matters worse, he proceeded to collide with the post in painful-looking fashion and did not seem comfortable for the rest of the match.
Key Opta Facts
- Arsenal have won their opening four group-stage matches in a European campaign for the first time since the 2005-06 season, in the Champions League, when they went on to reach the final.
- Norwegian sides have lost their past five home meetings with English teams in all European competitions by an aggregate score of 14-0.
- 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 only exception being Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's penalty at Old Trafford in the Premier League.
- Pepe has been directly involved in nine goals in his 10 Europa League games for Arsenal (five goals and four assists), netting in each of his past three appearances in the competition.
- All four of Nelson's goals for Arsenal have come in different competitions (Europa League, Premier League, FA Cup and EFL Cup).
- Balogun scored with his first ever attempt for Arsenal's senior team.
Arsenal, who host Rapid Vienna on matchday five, are next in action against Wolves in the Premier League on Sunday. Molde host Haugesund before next Thursday's trip to Dundalk.