Arsenal beat Nottingham Forest 2-1 at the City Ground after goals from Gabriel Jesus and Bukayo Saka.
Mikel Arteta’s team struggled to create openings in the first half as Forest sat back and absorbed pressure.
However, the match opened up in the second half and Jesus — having wasted a good chance to score — poked the ball home from a tight angle after jinking through the defence from a throw-in.
He then laid on the chance for Saka to score after 72 minutes, to send Arsenal second in the table, despite a late strike from Taiwo Awoniyi.
10 – Bukayo Saka is the first player to record 10+ goals and 10+ assists in all competitions in two consecutive seasons for Arsenal since Alexis Sánchez did so three times running from 2014-15 to 2016-17. Star. pic.twitter.com/mMJRzsZrA0
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 30, 2024
Art de Roché breaks down the big talking points from the game.
‘Freestyle’ Jesus bodes well
Gabriel Jesus is at his best when he looks like he is having fun playing football. Goals involvements are what crystalise the feeling of watching him in that mood, but he was gearing up before he scored and assisted.
He was active across the final third despite having very limited space in the first half, linking up nicely with Emile Smith Rowe and trying to bring life to the attack.
In the second half, his effort that smashed against the post could have disheartened him — especially given the intricate move it would have capped and the relative simplicity of the chance — but the 26-year-old flicking the ball over a defender’s head minutes later showed the confidence he was playing with.
For a side whose progress last season was defined by their free-flowing nature, the ‘freestyle’ element to Jesus’ game feels imperative to that continuing. He showed glimpses of that against Crystal Palace, but when he overcomes difficult moments like his miss only to take an arguably harder chance it should bode well for the coming weeks.
Forest given no time to breathe
Mikel Arteta’s answer to what he felt would be Arsenal’s biggest challenge this season was telling for how events have transpired in 2023-24.
“Suffocating the opponent more. Create more chances. Conceding zero chances and play further from our goal,” he said at the start of the campaign.
Their defensive core of William Saliba, Gabriel and Declan Rice pushing as high into the opposition half as possible was even more apparent than usual against Nottingham Forest.
From a ‘suffocation’ perspective, they were able to keep the ball further from their own goal for long spells as the trio dealt with most of the loose balls that arose when Forest tried to break.
This did allow Nuno Espirito Santo’s side to sit even deeper than some of the low blocks Arsenal have faced this year, however, leaving them less space to exploit. Openings were not easy to come by in the first half but they got some joy with more space and quicker passing in the second half but their ingenuity from set-pieces separated them again.
Analysed: Arsenal’s top 10 set-piece routines under Nicolas Jover
Zinchenko’s quick throw-in bought Jesus the time he needed to break the deadlock and set Arsenal on course for the win.
How did Smith Rowe play?
Emile Smith Rowe was not outstanding but showed promising signs during his second start in the Premier League this season.
In a match devoid of space, his inclusion in the left half-space helped Arsenal create their most natural openings into the Forest box in the first half.
Often combining with either Oleksandr Zinchenko or Jesus after remaining patient in the pocket worked well but that side of his game suffered once Arsenal started recycling the ball across their back line. Around the hour mark, his snappy passes into the box also helped give Arsenal a boost.
Arteta deciding to substitute Smith Rowe for Havertz just after taking the lead made sense considering the German’s height.
Ahead of the game, Arteta said Smith Rowe “fully deserved” his opportunity to start. With those being such a rarity in the first half of the season, even if he is not in the XI this weekend against Liverpool, more chances to build momentum should be welcome.
What did Arteta say?
We will bring you this after he has spoken at the post-match press conference.
What next for Arsenal?
Sunday, February 4: Liverpool (H), Premier League, 4.30pm GMT, 11.30am ET
Not you lot again! Arsenal face Liverpool for a third time in six weeks, after the 1-1 draw at Anfield in the reverse league fixture a couple of days before Christmas and the 2-0 defeat at the Emirates in the FA Cup third round, in what could well be their final encounter with Jurgen Klopp. In their 23 meetings with Liverpool under the German, Arsenal have won five times, drawn six and lost 12.
(Photo: Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)