After a dreadful performance in midweek, Arsenal were desperate to set the record straight in the Premier League.
Manchester City’s win over Brighton & Hove Albion the day before restored them, albeit temporarily, to the summit of the Premier League.
A win on Sunday, against bottom of the league Nottingham Forest, would not only reverse the team’s abnormally poor run of late, but also return them to the top of the league.
Mikel Arteta named his usual Premier League starting eleven. The absence of Oleksandr Zinchenko, not to mention the supposed bad form of Kieran Tierney, ensured that Takehiro Tomiyasu retained his place at left-back.
Unsurprisingly, Arsenal started exceptionally well. As was the case for some earlier matches last season and for one or two games recently, Arsenal have started the opening 20 minutes exceptionally well, but have a tendency to drop off.
That may have been the case in previous games, but, this time, it seemed not to matter, as the hosts found themselves a goal-up in the opening five minutes.
Gabriel Martinelli’s expert switch of play gave space to Bukayo Saka on the right, who curled a wonderful cross into the penalty area which was headed into the bottom corner, expertly, by Martinelli.
It showed the togetherness of the team as they all huddled around the corner flag and held aloft the shirt of Pablo Marí, the defender currently on loan at Monza and who was the victim of a stabbing in Italy on Thursday.
The first-half trickled by without the team able to work much rhythm into the match. Constant fouling from Nottingham Forest meant that, one or two chances aside, Arsenal found it difficult to keep up to their fantastic opening standards.
The second-half, however, was chalk and cheese.
Questions had been asked when Mikel Arteta chose to introduce Reiss Nelson in the place of the injured Bukayo Saka, but the England winger set about answering them.
Fantastic work through the middle from Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey saw the ball drilled into the feet of Gabriel Jesus in the penalty area; his ball found Nelson, who jinked past one defender before smashing his effort goalwards. It was well-saved by Dean Henderson, but he was powerless to keep it out as Nelson blazed his rebound over the head of Steve Cook, to double Arsenal’s advantage.
A few minutes later, Arsenal had their third.
Mesmerising skill from Martin Ødegaard and Gabriel Jesus had Nottingham Forest performing carthweels just to catch up with them, The ball fell to Nelson once more and he poked home his second of the match into Dean Henderson’s far corner.
But Arsenal weren’t done yet.
Fresh from his howitzer against Tottenham Hotspur a few weeks ago, Thomas Partey curled a superb effort into the top corner from Reiss Nelson’s layoff to put the sparkle on the second-half.
But Nottingham Forest’s humiliation was not done yet.
Excellent work from Gabriel Jesus to hold off the defender allowed him to work the space for Martin Ødegaard, who zig-zagged around a defender and lashed home the team’s fifth.
The visitors trudged off the pitch at the final whistle, resoundingly beaten.
It was a stunning performance from Mikel Arteta’s men, particularly in the second-half.
Whatever lingering doubts there were from midweek or the draw away to Southampton, Arsenal seemed to dispel them with style.
There were several standout performers on the day, none more so than Benjamin White, Martin Ødegaard and Reiss Nelson.
Gabriel Jesus, unable to add one to his own tally, also had a fine game, but his performance will forever be remembered for his failure to make his own mark on the scoresheet.
White, who has filled in as the team’s de-facto right-back this season, seemed to send his strongest ever message to Gareth Southgate that he should be on the plane for Qatar in a few weeks time.
White was imperious at the back and his strength, coupled with his pace and improved heading, saw him standout from a relatively untroubled Arsenal defence.
Ødegaard seems to be embracing the idea that the less you see of him, the more he impacts the game. While his goal was nevertheless right out of the top drawer, everything else was a class above anyone else on the field. His passes, dribbling and languid poise left Forest defender’s in the smoke.
For Reiss Nelson, it was a perfect performance.
Two goals and a further assist repaid the manager’s faith brilliantly and he did a wonderful job of stepping into Bukayo Saka’s shoes. The question now is whether or not he can produce the same level of performance if called upon again.
A win was exactly what Arsenal needed.
However, they musn’t get too complacent. They need a win on Thursday over FC Zürich in order to qualify as group winners and have a tough away trip to Chelsea to worry about next Sunday.
1.) Aaron Ramsdale
4.) Benjamin White
12.) William Saliba (Tierney 75′)
6.) Gabriel Magalhães
18.) Takehiro Tomiyasu (Cédric 62′)
5.) Thomas Partey
34.) Granit Xhaka (Nketiah 74′)
8.) Martin Ødegaard (c)
7.) Bukayo Saka (Nelson 27’)
11.) Gabriel Martinelli (Fábio Vieira 63′)
9.) Gabriel Jesus
30.) Matt Turner
16.) Rob Holding
17.) Cédric Soares
3.) Kieran Tierney
23.) Albert Sambi Lokonga
21.) Fábio Vieira
24.) Reiss Nelson
14.) Eddie Nketiah
Nottingham Forest team:
1.) Dean Henderson
26.) Scott McKenna
32.) Renan Lodi (Williams 63′)
3.) Steve Cook
24.) Serge Aurier
21.) Checik Kouyaté (O’Brien 79’)
22.) Ryan Yates (c)
10.) Morgan Gibbs-White (Johnson 55′)
23.) Remo Freuler
11.) Jesse Lingard (Dennis 55′)
9.) Taiwo Awoniyi (Worrall 63′)
Nottingham Forest subs:
13.) Wayne Hennessy
4.) Joe Worrall
5.) Orel Mangala
30.) Willy Boly
7.) Neco Williams
14.) Lewis O’Brien
20.) Brennan Johnson
25.) Emmanuel Dennis
16.) Sam Surridge
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