Arsenal 5 – 0 Nottingham Forest
It’s been a good week for the second string team; three without reply in Frankfurt followed by five last night. Have any of them given Unai Emery pause for thought? They certainly should have.
On top of the promise of youth, came the returns of Hector Bellerin and Rob Holding, as well as the long-awaited debut of Kieran Tierney. Holding, wearing the captain’s armband, heading home the second from Ozil’s corner.
The German found himself substituted on 71 minutes, proving that Arsene isn’t the only man who favours certain times of a game for making a change. 71 at Watford, 71 last night; a magical formula we’re all missing or something. Or is it Unai nodding to the past, of happier times gone by?
Little wonder Ozil looked peeved as he left the pitch.
That is a sideshow, a distraction from the main action, with plenty of twists and turns yet to come. Twists and turns are something the Forest defence after last night; they were run ragged.
We know how they feel; Watford – bloody Watford – did the same to us for 45 minutes. Our passing and movement were excellent and there wasn’t a bad performance among them. Yes, I know Mustafi played.
One centre-back who took his chance was Calum Chambers, even if he played everywhere but centre-back. An outstanding cross for Martinelli’s opening header gave Reiss Nelson’s exquisite pass the goal it deserved.
The young Brazitalian was brave in the same way Emile Smith Rowe later found painful. Concussion protocols in action, the unfortunate Smith Rowe departed on a stretcher. Emery said he didn’t think it was serious which is good news.
Martinelli added a second to bookend the evening with a wickedly deflected shot. As first starts go, this was one to remember.
Right Said Fred
On the day the Evening Standard eulogised Freddie Ljungberg, the Swede saw the youngsters deliver and was heavily involved from the touchline. Unai spoke afterwards about the freedom he gives his staff:
Yes, each assistant coach behind me, they have also their work and we are together for speaking with the players and also when we are in the dressing room, we are speaking together for all the situations individually and after we share some moments on the game to speak with the players individually, with the young players and with all players.
But for example, he knows perfectly the Arsenal spirit, also he knows the young players and he helps us every day in the training in the matches.
And before [his coaching career], he knew the characteristics for the Premier League. I am very happy with him.Freddie Knows
The bounding runs from the young players showed a freedom which is refreshing to see. Joe Willock is thriving with the responsibility he is given while Bukayo Saka once again lived up to the expectations placed on his shoulders.
To respond to a flatter Sunday outing this quickly is a good sign. You learn more about a player when things go wrong from weeks when everything falls into place.
The stars of the show, however, were Tierney and Bellerin. Both played well for their share of the 90 minutes with Tierney giving a nice variety of supporting runs and sharp passes for attacks to feed off. A gentle introduction to the red and white; his first Premier League appearance will probably be tougher.
Bellerin likewise. Emery noted the quacks will kibosh hopes of the full-back returning against United but to the untrained eye, he looked ready and raring to go.
Alert as well; when his shot was blocked, Bellerin was swiftly onto Mustafi’s pass in the area and delivered the perfect ball for Willock to score.
It was left to Reiss Nelson to stake his claim for a first-team place. Pre-season, the expectations were high for the youngster but it’s been a plateau for him since starting at Newcastle. Saka is now the name on everyone’s lips but scoring did Nelson no harm in pressing his claim for a place in the XI.
There’s plenty to be positive about from this game. Emery thinks this is a competition in which we can do well, that the youngsters’ performances meant “we can take some different positive issues for thinking that it is one way forward for us.”
Transfer that to the Premier League? I’m not so sure. Later, he mentioned that “we need to improve a lot of things and tonight I think we done a step in the right direction.”
Given Sunday’s first-half, Emery is cautious – maybe that’s the overall problem – about getting our hopes up.
We need to improve for the next matches, for example against Manchester United.
It will be very difficult and very tough so we need to achieve the best performance, but with the work tonight of some of our players, they are ready to play more difficult matches.
We need to build a competitive team with a strong mentality at home and away. We can improve and I am very positive we’re going to do that.
Tonight and on Sunday we showed a good character, a good attitude and a good spirit.Baby Steps, Unai.
Given the mood a week ago, it’s been three steps in the right direction since Watford. Optimism about taking points next Monday. We shall see whether that evaporates the nearer kick-off gets.