Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Nottingham Forest 0-4 Arsenal: Second string show quality and depth

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Well that was quite fun. When a manager makes 11 changes from his previous team, takes none of that team with him at all, and packs his bench full of kids, you can never be quite sure how things are going to go.

As we saw in this competition last season a relatively experienced team got a real beating away at Sheffield Wednesday, but that was far from the case last night as the players who came in performed in just the way the manager would have hoped.

Arsenal bossed the game from the start really, the midfield partnership of Granit Xhaka and Mohamed Elneny helped control the tempo and rhythm of the play, and while Forest had a few moments here and there, it became apparent fairly quickly that we were in charge.

Xhaka opened the scoring with another long-range cracker. No tired jokes about how we’ll coach that out of him here. I want to see more of it. The simple fact that we have someone who is a) willing to shoot from distance and b) is really quite good at it, adds some variety to our attacking play. Sure, the stats heads will tell you that it’s wasteful and you should try and create better openings closer to goal, but sometimes it’s just worth having a go and the Swiss international has proved that in the last two matches. xG that one out of the back of the net fellas.

The Jeff was unlucky not to score his first Arsenal goal towards the end of the first half, clipping the ball wide after lovely work from Oxlade-Chamberlain and Akpom. Lucas saw a free kick saved before he was presented the chance to open his Arsenal account from the spot. He had played in Akpom who was fouled, and the ref awarded the penalty. The £17m Spaniard made no mistake to make it 2-0.

The most dangerous thing about Forest was former Gunner Henri Lansbury who seemed intent on causing us some damage, but only physically, not with the football. Eventually he got a yellow card and really should have been sent to borstal for that haircut, but referees these days are too lenient.

Lucas added an excellent third, showing strength, power and pace to hold off the Forest defender, round the keeper and slot the ball home. One of their players tried to lie on top of him forever, only the second strangest thing of the night after a home fan decided he wanted to present Arsene Wenger with a pie midway through the second half. There was a lot to like about that goal though, opposition notwithstanding.

There were chances for Lucas to get his hat-trick but he failed to take them. We saw Zelalem, Willock and Bielik get a bit of a run out, and in injury time Oxlade-Chamberlain combined beautifully with Lucas to score Arsenal’s fourth. He’s had a difficult time of it lately, so hopefully his second goal of the season will go some way to restoring some of the confidence he’s found so hard to come by.

Afterwards, Arsene Wenger had praise for Lucas:

I liked his second goal because it was not only technique but it was determination, to fight for the ball and finish, I liked as well the part he played in the goal of Oxlade-Chamberlain because it shows that he can combine with other people and that he is an intelligent player.

That was pretty much exactly what Wenger would have wanted from a 27 year old striker. He needed to get off the mark for his new club, and although it took him a while to get into the game fully, when he did he was a real threat. His night’s work of two goals and an assist is a decent return, all things considered.

And on the performance overall:

We got there in the end but the game was tough, Nottingham Forest played with full commitment. We needed to be patient and as well not to concede a goal – which we did well. Overall I felt that technically we played well, our combinations worked well and we played at a high pace and that’s where we made the difference in the game.

I know some will say it was just Nottingham Forest, but when it comes right down to it we made 11 changes from the team that beat Hull 4-1, and won 4-0 away from home. Scoring four goals on your travels is always a good thing, and while you can take into account the quality of the opposition, I think it’s much more pertinent to look at the quality of our performance and there was a lot to like about it.

Midfield really worked, Xhaka and Elneny are definitely another ‘pair’ for Arsene Wenger to consider, and the young players who came in performed really well. Chuba Akpom and The Jeff did well, Ainsley Maitland-Niles didn’t look out of place at right back despite the fact he’s a winger, and I enjoyed Rob Holding moving to the other side of the defence from where he’s normally played – there was a lot of composure and intelligence about his performance.

This was a game where these players could show whether or not they add depth to the squad. Not quite sink or swim, but when you look at some of the youngsters who played against Sheffield Wednesday last season and are now nowhere near first team action, you can see the difference. The fact that senior players were able to come in, help control the game and contribute themselves is good to see too, because they’ll be needed over the course of the campaign.

All in all, an enjoyable performance and a good win. It also means at least one more game in this competition, which allows us to give chances to these players. We now turn our attention to the weekend and what’s likely to be a much more testing game against Chelsea, but having started the season in somewhat faltering fashion, it now feels as if there’s a bit of momentum going into this one.

Right, that’s that. I’m back tomorrow with a surprise Thursday Arsecast, and all the usual bits and pieces. Until then.

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