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Preview: Molde vs. Arsenal - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews Thursday's Europa League clash between Molde and Arsenal, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.

Arsenal can confirm qualification for the Europa League knockout stages this week when they travel to Norway to take on Molde in Thursday's Group B clash.

The Gunners have taken maximum points from their first three games, whereas Molde are second in the group and can further their own bid for a top-two finish with a shock result on matchday four.


Match preview

Many teams have tried and failed to travel back from the Emirates Stadium with something to show for their efforts, but Molde's first-half performance against the Gunners had the Norwegian side believing that a monumental upset could have been on the cards after Martin Ellingsen curled in a delightful opener.

However, Erling Moe's side were the masters of their own downfall in the English capital as two own goals saw the tie turned on its head before Nicolas Pepe and Joe Willock completed the rout to condemn Molde to their first European defeat of the campaign.

There is no shame in coming out second best from a visit to Arsenal, and Molde are still in a strong position to qualify for the next stage with two wins from a possible three in Group B, with the Norwegian side scraping past Dundalk on matchday one before overcoming Rapid Vienna 1-0 last month.

Since that drubbing at the Emirates Stadium - which ended Molde's six-game winning streak in all competitions - Moe's men have drawn 2-2 with Kristiansund and enjoyed a 3-0 victory away to Stabaek in the Eliteserien, although last season's champions have already relinquished their title to Bodo/Glimt, who sit 18 points clear at the top with five games left to play.

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta pictured on November 22, 2020© Reuters

Meanwhile, Arsenal's results in the group stage do not exactly tell the full story. Nine points out of nine is obviously nothing to be sniffed at, but Mikel Arteta's men have experienced several moments of uncertainty in their opening three matches.

Nevertheless, the Gunners will ensure that they cannot be caught by Molde should they take the spoils at the Aker Stadion this week, which would leave Rapid Vienna as the only team capable of pipping Arsenal to top spot - which is extremely unlikely to happen.

While it is evident that Arteta has shored up Arsenal's leaky defence over the past few months, it seems to have come at a cost at the other end of the pitch. The Gunners have had no problems chalking up goals in the Europa League, but their record in front of goal in the Premier League leaves a lot to be desired.

Last weekend's match against Leeds United became their fifth top-flight game in a row in which Arteta's men failed to find the back of the net from open play, and even though they were dominated for near enough the full 90 minutes and played most of the second half with 10 men, the Gunners still walked away from Elland Road with a point.

The story could have been a lot different had Leeds not struck the woodwork three times, while Bukayo Saka also saw a golden opportunity saved by Illan Meslier, but the Europa League takes precedence this week and Arteta will be desperate to wrap up qualification and give Gooners a much-needed confidence boost before a clash with Wolverhampton Wanderers this weekend.

Molde Europa League form: WWL
Molde form (all competitions): WWWLDW

Arsenal Europa League form: WWW
Arsenal form (all competitions): LWWWLD


Team News

Arsenal's Emile Smith Rowe pictured in December 2019© Reuters

Molde striker Ohi Omoijuanfo has already popped up with two vital goals in the group stage, but the 26-year-old is currently fighting a bout of illness and is not expected to play a part this week.

Leke James, who was given a 15-minute run-out at the Emirates, should therefore start this one, while Birk Risa is in contention to fill the left-hand side of defence over Kristoffer Haugen, who was one of the unfortunate two to turn into his own net against Arsenal earlier this month.

The Gunners are nowhere near as fortunate on the absentee front, with Saka and Willian the latest to enter the treatment room after picking up injuries against Leeds, while Mohamed Elneny and Sead Kolasinac tested positive for coronavirus last week.

Summer arrival Thomas Partey has not travelled as he continues to nurse the thigh injury he sustained before the international break, but Pepe is available despite seeing red at Elland Road.

However, Arteta has used this competition to allow up-and-coming players to impress and that is unlikely to change here, with Reiss Nelson, Willock, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and potentially even Emile Smith Rowe coming into the XI.

Molde possible starting lineup:
Linde; Wingo, Bjornbak, Gregersen, Risa; Hussain, Aursnes; Ellingsen, Eikrem, Brynhildsen; James

Arsenal possible starting lineup:
Leno; Cedric, Mustafi, Luiz, Maitland-Niles; Xhaka, Ceballos; Nelson, Willock, Smith Rowe; Nketiah


SM words green background

We say: Molde 1-3 Arsenal

Arsenal are not exactly brimming with confidence at the moment, but with several fringe players hoping to stake a claim for regular first-team spots in this game, we can only see one winner. Molde's recent results makes for good reading for the Norwegian outfit, but even with a plethora of changes, the Gunners should pick up all three points with minimal trouble and all but guarantee their spot in the knockout stages.


Top betting tip

Our expert tipster partners at Sporita.com are predicting under 3.5 goals in this match. Click here to find out what else they are predicting for this game and for more of their tried-and-tested football tips.Under 3.5:data


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Who will win Thursday's Europa League clash between Molde and Arsenal?

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Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta pictured on November 22, 2020
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Tables
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1Manchester UnitedMan Utd19124336251140
2Manchester CityMan City18115231131838
3Leicester CityLeicester19122535211438
4Liverpool1997337221534
5Tottenham HotspurSpurs1896333171633
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8Chelsea1985633231029
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10Arsenal198382319427
11Aston Villa1682629181126
12Leeds UnitedLeeds187293034-423
13Crystal Palace196582233-1123
14Wolverhampton WanderersWolves196492129-822
15Newcastle UnitedNewcastle185491830-1219
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