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Arsenal's French-born Ivorian midfielder Nicolas Pepe plays the ball during the UEFA Europa League group B football match Molde v Arsenal in Molde, Norway on Nov. 26, 2020.

SVEIN OVE EKORNESVAG/AFP/Getty Images

Arsenal’s academy products helped the team cruise into to the knockout stage of the Europa League on Thursday, while Leicester needed a late equalizer from Jamie Vardy to advance.

Arsenal’s record signing Nicolas Pépé showed his better side after he was sent off in a 0-0 draw at Leeds in the Premier League on Sunday, scoring the opening goal in a 3-0 away victory at Norway’s Molde. The homegrown talents did the rest as Reiss Nelson doubled the lead and Folarin Balogun – less than a minute after coming on as a substitute – netted the third with his first goal for the club.

Hoffenheim and Leicester also progressed into the round of 32 with two matches to spare. The Premier League club equalized three times in a 3-3 draw at Braga, with Vardy grabbing the final goal in injury time.

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Carlos Vinicius scored his first two goals for Tottenham while Harry Winks netted a spectacular one from 56 yards as a dominant Spurs side beat Bulgarian team Ludogorets 4-0.

AC Milan failed to win for the second straight game as the Italian powerhouse was held to a 1-1 draw at Lille, while Rangers was held 2-2 by Benfica after giving up a two-goal lead against the Portuguese side for the second game in a row.

A minute of silence was observed before all the matches to honour Diego Maradona, who died on Wednesday at the age of 60.

Maradona’s former club Napoli paid special tribute to the Argentine before a 2-0 win over Rijeka.

ARSENAL ADVANCES

Arsenal used a second-half scoring burst to maintain a perfect record with four wins from four.

Just a minute after hitting the crossbar, Pépé curled a ball into a top corner of the net five minutes into the second half.

Pépé has struggled to establish himself in the team for Premier League games after moving to Arsenal from French club Lille last summer in a deal worth a reported €80-million (US$89-million) but he’s leading the charge in the Europa League.

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He has scored three goals in the competition this season and set up another two for Arsenal.

Five minutes later, Joe Willock – another academy product – provided a fine cross for Nelson to tap in the second. Balogun finished it off from close range seven minutes from time.

Arsenal tops Group B with 12 points, six more than Molde.

VARDY

Vardy equalized five minutes into stoppage time to put Europa League newcomer Leicester into the next stage.

Fransergio had put the hosts 3-2 up four minutes earlier.

In the previous round, Leicester beat Braga 4-0 at home. This time, it was 1-0 down after Al Musrati scored four minutes into the game.

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Harvey Barnes cancelled that out five minutes later with an angled shot high into the net, but Paulinho restored the host’s one-goal advantage in the 24th from close range.

Luke Thomas netted Leicester’s second equalizer in the 79th.

Leicester leads Group G with 10 points, with Braga on seven. Zorya Luhansk won 3-0 at AEK Athens, putting both teams on three points.

WINKS LET’S FLY

Vinicius gave Tottenham the lead 16 minutes into the game after he met a deflected pass from Dele Alli to beat Ludogorets goalkeeper Plamen Iliev on-on-one.

The Brazilian added his second in the 34th. Tanguy Ndombele started the move with a run up the field before unleashing a low shot that was parried by Iliev, with Dele crossing for the forward to net again.

Winks made it 3-0 in the second half from near the halfway line on the left, lobbying a spectacular shot over the keeper and into the net. It was his third goal for Spurs.

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Vinicius set up Lucas Moura in the box to finish the rout with his third goal in four Europa League games.

With nine points, Tottenham is tied atop Group J with Royal Antwerp, which won 2-0 at LASK.

OTHER GROUPS

In Group I, Villarreal leads with 10 points after a 1-1 away draw at 10-man Maccabi Tel-Aviv, which is second with seven. Sivasspor is on six after winning 3-2 against Qarabag.

Dinamo Zagreb blanked Wolfsberg 3-0 away to sit atop Group K with eight points, leading Feyenoord by three after the Dutch side drew 0-0 at CSKA.

Roma earned a 2-0 win at Cluj to cement its lead in Group A with 10 points. Young Boys won at CSKA Sofia 1-0 to sit second with seven, followed by Cluj on four.

Leverkusen and Slavia Prague share the lead of Group C on nine points. The Bundesliga side beat Hapoel Beer-Sheva 4-1 while the Czechs won 3-1 at Nice.

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Rangers wasted a 2-0 lead over Benfica and was held to a 2-2 draw. James Tavernier scored an own goal to start the comeback before substitute Pizzi salvaged the draw nine minutes from time. It was the second straight draw for the two sides after Steven Gerrard’s team gave up a 3-1 advantage earlier this month when Darwin Nunez scored Benfica’s last-gasp equalizer in a 3-3 draw. Nunez along with midfielders Adel Taarabt and Julian Weigl have been quarantined after testing positive for the coronavirus.

Rangers and Benfica sit atop Group D with eight points, while Standard Liege and Lech Poznan have three after drawing 1-1.

A 2-1 victory for Granada over Omonoia kept the Spaniards on top of Group E with 10 points. PSV jumped to second on six with a 3-2 win over PAOK, which is third with five.

AZ Alkmaar drew 0-0 with Spanish league leader Real Sociedad, keeping both two points behind Napoli in Group F.

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