Nicolas Pepe bounced back in style from his red card madness to fire Arsenal into the Europa League knockout stages.

Sent off for a headbutt against Leeds, £72m flop Pepe gave one of his best performances for the Gunners ahead of a three-match domestic ban, scoring the opener.

Reiss Nelson added a second with his first European goal and teen starlet Folarin Balogun came off the bench to score his first senior goal for the club.

But it was Pepe that Arteta hailed afterwards, saying: “We all know where his level is. The question is how often he can get to that level and contribute to all aspects of the game.

Nicolas Pepe scored Arsenal's first goal as they comfortably beat Molde
Nicolas Pepe scored Arsenal's first goal as they comfortably beat Molde

“He is capable of doing it. He is a real threat in the final third. He can shoot, he can cross, he can go in behind. That’s what we expect from him.

“I am really pleased. After a disappointment, something negative, you want to see a reaction. I could see from the first minute from his body language he was ready to act.

“He scored, could have scored again, and worked really hard for the team. I am really pleased with that.”

Nicolas Pepe curled home from inside the box
Nicolas Pepe curled home from inside the box

Arteta tried to solve his goals shortage by going with two strikers on a plastic pitch that Molde were hoping would prove a leveller.

But Alex Lacazette, who captained the team, was effectively playing just behind Eddie Nketiah.

The Frenchman forced Molde keeper Andreas Linde into a decent save with his legs as Arsenal dominated the early stages.

But Sheriff Sinyan was guilty of a terrible miss when he sliced Eirik Hestad’s low cross right into the grateful arms of Alex Runarsson.

Mikel Arteta was pleased with the response from Pepe following his red card
Mikel Arteta was pleased with the response from Pepe following his red card

There was another scare for the Gunners when Fredrik Aursnes almost got on the end of another good cross only for Ainsley Maitland-Niles to clear the danger at the last minute.

Molde also had a handball appeal against David Luiz turned down by Bosnian referee Irfan Peljto as nerves jangled for Arsenal.

The Gunners had their moments. But once again they looked too slow and predictable, and you could see their frustration grow.

Nketiah was then denied a certain goal just before half time by a brilliant clearing header from Sinyan, who just beat him to Reiss Nelson’s inswinging cross.

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And Pepe rattled the crossbar with a screamer at the start of the second half - but he was not to be denied, and curled in a beauty shortly afterwards.

Suddenly Arsenal were cooking, and Joe Willock quickly created a second with an inch-perfect low ball which Nelson prodded in.

Arteta emptied the bench after that, and two of his subs combined when Emile Smith Rowe set up Balogun for number three.