That most elusive of beasts – the goal from open play – was rediscovered hiding in Norway as Arsenal fans’ long search for much-needed celebration was ended with a comfortable win over FK Molde.
After what felt like an epoch without an open-play goal, Mikel Arteta’s men at last produced an attacking performance with purpose, verve, and – crucially – some end product to secure passage into the next round of the Europa League with two games to spare.
As well as a triumph of perseverance, the victory was also a lesson for all concerned in patience and perspective, particularly as the Gunners went in at half-time without too much to show for their efforts.
In the end, and despite the catastrophising of many, the confidence arrived, the ball started to stick and the goals followed not long after…and thank goodness they did.
Wins are always transformative for the general mood and there couldn’t have been a sharper contrast between the feelings at half-time and full-time, feelings greatly boosted by the success of our younger prospects.
Ultimately, the victory will belong to the likes of Folarin Balogun, Emile-Smith Rowe, Reiss Nelson, and Joe Willock – who were all involved in the thick of the action when at last Arsenal started to find their rhythm. Where there senior colleagues have struggled to make an impression in recent weeks, the young stars combined to great effect and will doubtless take the plaudits. Nelson and Bolgun, in particular, will be pleased to have got their names on the scoresheet.
While their inclusion in the starting XI is likely still some way off, none has done himself any harm and the knocking at the manager’s door will only get louder if they continue to perform as they did. If nothing else, they will keep themselves in the picture for more starts in upcoming Europa League matches and domestic cup competitions to come too.
Another who did his cause no harm was Nicolas Pepe, hitherto head-butter and villain in chief after his antics at Elland Road last Sunday. He needed a performance for his own peace of mind and, to his great credit, he produced. Given the opportunity to turn and run at his man, the Ivorian was dangerous, involved, and productive. He may well have had an assist or two to add to his goal but for the profligacy of others.
While the legacy of that head butt means Pepe will have to continue to do his work in European competition, perhaps a good run of minutes will give him a chance to find some much-needed consistency and confidence. We’ve all seen flashes of that superb left-foot but it’s time he took it up a level. A performance of the calibre he produced tonight will go some way to doing that.
In the end, the Gunners overcame a stodgy first half to claim the win and the points, with just a little touch of gloss added to the result courtesy of a swashbuckling second 45. They will need to be as good, and for longer periods, if they want to go deep into this competition but this remains a project in progress, albeit with another tiny step forward taken.
Let’s hope the wait for our next sight of goal doesn’t take quite so long!