Nottingham Forest 1-2 Arsenal: Gunners close gap on league leaders Liverpool

Premier League action on Tuesday evening saw Nottingham Forest host second-place Arsenal at the City Ground, looking to bounce back from defeat in the league to Brentford earlier in the month. Out of the last six meetings between the two sides in the top flight, the Gunners have been victorious on five occasions, but this fixture last season saw them travel back to North London after suffering defeat in the city of Nottingham.

NFO: Turner; Montiel, Omobamidele, Murillo, Toffolo; Danio, Mangala; Williams, Gibbs-White, Dominguez; Wood

ARS: Raya; White, Saliba, Gabriel, Zinchenko; Odegaard, Rice, Smith Rowe; Saka, Jesus, Martinelli

Forest made three changes to the side that started in the goalless draw at Bristol City in the FA Cup with Harry Toffolo, Neco Williams and Morgan Gibbs-White returning to replace Ryan Yates, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Nuno Tavares, the latter of which is unavailable to play against his parent club.

The visitors made two changes to the starting XI that beat Crystal Palace by five goals in the league: Leandro Trossard and Kai Havertz dropping to the bench, replaced by Gabriel Martinelli and Emile Smith Rowe.

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The action began with Arsenal getting the game underway and immediately controlling possession. Jesus and Martinelli combined on the edge of the box at two-minutes before Rice played a pass into the Forest box at four-minutes that had just too much on it for Smith Rowe to panic the hosts early.

Forest had their first attack in the 5th minute when Dominguez tried to find Wood, but Saliba read the play well and was able to put a stop to it before Saka lost possession in the 7th minute providing Gibbs-White the opportunity to move the ball quickly up the pitch – the Gunners managed to regain their defensive shape in time to diffuse the attack.

Regaining composure and possession, Arsenal went on the attack at 11-minutes through England international Bukayo Saka who worked his way down the right flank with the Forest left back conceding the first corner of the evening in the process of trying to stop him – nothing could come of the set-piece opportunity for the visitors.

Jesus and Saka combined again at 13-minutes before the ball broke to Odegaard whose shot from 12 yards out was blocked and cleared. Continuing to unsettle the hosts, Zinchenko released Smith Rowe into the box with a pass down the left channel but the latter’s low cross was tipped over by Murrilo before Jesus could get to it, and it resulted in another corner that was not capitalised upon.

Having enjoyed 71% possession by the 20th minute, the Gunners were beginning to convert their occupation of the ball into genuine threat. They raced forwards on the counter attack as Martinelli slipped down the left, but Williams diverted the ball out for a corner. A free kick was given in a dangerous area at 26-minutes, but the former Arsenal goalkeeper in net for the hosts came out to claim with confidence as the score remained level.

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The hosts began an attack of their own a minute later but when Gibbs-White attempted to flick the ball past Rice, it skimmed the top of his arm – Forest’s penalty claims were denied. They continued to hold their shape well and defend vigorously as Arsenal were persistent in stringing chances together. In the 35th minute, Jesus had an opportunity to open the scoring, but his shot was blocked by Murillo before Zinchenko kicked it out for a goal kick and the hosts emerged from the attack unscathed.

Into the first of three additional minutes, the territorial dominance and constant pressure continued from the Gunners as Zinchenko crossed the ball from the left to Jesus, his header missing the target and soaring over the bar. Jesus tried to win the header from Odegaard’s cross at 48-minutes, but Omobamidele deflected it out for a corner with the half-time whistle blown.

Forest got the second half underway having made a change up front as Awoniyi replaced Wood.
Arsenal continued where they left off, committing bodies forwards and patiently waiting for a gap in Forest’s defence to take advantage of. Martinelli twisted down the left in the 50th minute but his low cross was cleared by Murillo before it could cause panic to Turner.

A fast-paced counter-attack from the hosts followed in the 51st minute but Gibbs-White was unable to find Awoniyi or Dominguez as Saliba stopped the pass. The French defender was then forced to make a foul awarding Forest a free kick that was headed towards goal by Williams, but comfortably saved by Raya.

Saka tested Turner with a fierce shot in the 52nd minute – the flight of the ball was changed by a deflection off Toffolo, but the Forest keeper managed to stick out a strong arm to produce the save that kept the score level.

With the game starting to open up, White, Odegaard and Saka combined down the right, playing a ball down the channel that released Jesus into the box, his shot towards the top right corner rattling the woodwork in what was so close to being the opening goal of the game.

Arsenal made their breakthrough in the 65th minute when Jesus fired them ahead with a low shot fired through Turner’s legs from the tightest of angles after a quick throw in from Zinchenko – the Brazilian striker has never lost a Premier League match that he has scored in.

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Hungry to double their advantage, Saka shot in the 69th minute, hoping to find the far corner but Murillo was there to make the block again.

It took only seven-minutes for the lead to be extended with Saka’s right-footed strike in the 72nd minute giving the Gunners a two-goal cushion. After clearing a corner down the other end of the pitch, Arsenal attempted to cause trouble on the breakaway. It was quick thinking from the Arsenal captain who released Jesus down the left after winning the ball in midfield, with Jesus crossing the ball to Saka who struck a powerful shot across Turner and into the bottom left corner.

The final 20-minutes were under the visitors’ control as they maintained possession and allowed Forest few opportunities to potentially reduce the deficit. Trossard’s shot in the 81st minute went inches wide of the top-right corner before Nketiah’s low shot from a tight angle on the right was deflected out for a corner by the leg of Omobamidele. Saka took the corner but Turner caught it comfortably.

With two minutes plus stoppage time to go, Awoniyi marked his return from injury with a goal that caused the fans leaving the City Ground to stop in their tracks. Getting his body in the way of Saliba, the substitue turned on the penalty spot before finishing into the bottom corner. After a check for offside in the build up, the goal was awarded to the hosts, sparking hope of a late equaliser. Forest had not scored a goal after 90 minutes all season and despite furiously attempting to find the back of the net for a second time as five minutes of stoppage time were played, they couldn’t score past the 90-minute mark again.

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Three points for the Gunners away from home sees them move up to second in the table, just two points behind league leaders, Liverpool. Despite a late goal from Awoniyi who has now scored in both games against Arsenal this season, the hosts couldn’t get anything from the game, retaining their spot in 16th.