Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Arsenal 2-1 Nottingham Forest: Three lovely points

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Arsenal began the new season with a win and three points, after a 2-1 win over Nottingham Forest yesterday.

Kick off was delayed because of a problem with the new ticketing system, leaving thousands of people outside. It looked bad, and no doubt there will be a full inquest internally to find out exactly what happened.

12.30 became 1pm, and when the game did kick off, the line-up was a bit surprising. Gabriel was on the bench, ending his run of 73 consecutive Premier League starts, and it was Thomas Partey nominally at right-back, but he spent a lot of time inverting into midfield. I have to say, I’m all for Mikel Arteta being more unpredictable in terms of team selection and tactics, but this one doesn’t really do it for me.

Perhaps that’s influenced by what the game became in the second half more than the first, because I thought we were pretty good in the opening 45 minutes. Forest had a big chance after about 10 minutes, but it was one of those freaky things that happens in football, a rare bounce that gives you an opportunity rather than us being cut open by scintillating football. Thankfully Brennan Johnson fluffed his lines with just Aaron Ramsdale to beat.

At the other end, Forest sat with 11 men behind the ball at all times. At one point we had 90% possession (we ended the first half having had 85% of the ball), and their plan was obvious. Deny us space, sit in that low block, and hope to counter – but of course you have to have the ball to do that. When it did break down, I really liked the way we worked hard to get it back straight away. It’s frustrating and difficult to play against teams who play like that, but there was a diligence about our football that was good to see.

Our second goal came from one of those moments where Forest could have kept it, but we won it back high up the pitch and the brilliant Bukayo Saka did the rest. I saw some chat about him and his pre-season form, clearly he was just saving it for when it really matters. He made it look so simple, but it wasn’t. He left Matt Turner with no chance, the pace and trajectory of his shot was world class.

That made it 2-0 after Eddie Nketiah had put us ahead. Our other winger, Gabriel Martinelli, takes plaudits for his run and roulette which provided the striker with the ball, but Eddie did well to cut inside and fire home between the legs of the defender. As I’ve said often, he’s a player who scores when he starts, and having been given the nod yesterday he made the most of his chance.

Arteta spoke about him afterwards, saying:

He’s a player that was so disappointed with the absence of Gabby, and not to play a final.

A lot of players come and say: “ah, why am I not playing?”, and you have to try and explain. Other players tell you the reasons why they deserve to play, this is exactly what Eddie does. This is exactly what he did and then he goes onto the pitch, and he performs as well. It’s a clear example and a very good example for everybody.

At 2-0 up and comfortable, there was a little hiccup with the injury to Jurrien Timber who picked up a knock before the break, then went down with nobody near him very early in the second period. That’s never a good sign, so fingers crossed he’ll be ok. Takehiro Tomiyasu replaced him at left-back as Kieran Tierney was not in the squad.

At 2-0, I really wanted us to be a bit more ruthless. We were comfortable, Forest barely threatened bar a couple of corners, but this scoreline is one we’re going to have to learn to manage better, I think. I don’t know if it’s early season and we don’t quite have the legs, but I thought we lacked a bit of intensity required to go and get another goal. We came close when Declan Rice hit the post, and credit to Turner for making a great save in that moment too – but then from the resulting corner they scored a very good counter-attacking goal. Yes, we could have defended it better but it was executed well.

Then it’s 2-1, there’s about 10 minutes left, and you know there’s going to be elongated added time too. I can live without those nerves, thank you very much. I feel like this is already a ‘thing’ with us, it’s something Arteta referenced last season in terms of pressing home your advantage when you have that kind of lead, but more ruthlessness is required in these circumstances. I know it’s easier said than done, but having squandered this kind of lead too many times last season, we’ve got to do better. At the very least, don’t concede the goal, but ideally score more.

Mad stuff can happen in the final stages of games. Thankfully it didn’t in this instance, and we actually had some moments where we could have scored the third goal, but it’s knife-edge stuff and not good for the blood pressure. However, in the end we took three points and that is the main thing. We still look a little under-cooked in terms of physical fitness, and with three new players in the team, not quite as fluent as you might like as those relationships develop.

I thought Rice was the pick of the new boys, obviously the Timber injury is a worry, and I thought Kai Havertz was all right. Certainly not as bad as some of the Twitter reaction I’ve seen, but then more and more that particular platform thrives on extreme, rather than considered, opinion – not just in terms of football either. I think he can do better, but like most new signings at any football club he needs a bit of time. It’s far too early to be definitive.

Arteta now has a good week to work with his players, and get them up to speed for a difficult away trip to Crystal Palace next Monday night. We’ll have to be better than this to take all three points there, but I much prefer knuckling down to that hard work with three points in the bag secured by a couple of Hale End lads. We’ve had much worse starts to seasons in the past.

Right, let’s leave it there for now. Have a great Sunday everyone, and congratulations have to go to Disgustingly Sweet Energy Drink Leipzig for their win in the DFL-Supercup yesterday – at least Harry Kane will have the experience to help his new teammates come to terms with winning sweet F.A.

Till tomorrow!

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