Morning folks and back we are finally for another match day for The Arsenal. I tell you what, hasn’t January felt a little sparse, eh? Owing of course to our FA Cup exit which has meant two rounds have gone on since we went out to Liverpool, we found ourselves with even more time for Mikel Arteta to prep for a Forest team had to play on Friday night, so my hope is that we are much more rested than them and can take advantage at a ground in which we’ve been surprisingly bad at for a while now. Forest have won the last three matches in all competitions against us – admittedly with two of those three seeing Arsenal field weaker, rotated sides as we battled on multiple fronts. But you have to go all the way back to 2016 to see us pick up a win at the City ground, where we beat them 4-0 in the League Cup with goals from Xhaka, Lucas Perez and Oxlade-Chamberlain doing the business. That side also included Chuba Akpom and Jeff Reine-Adelaide, so gives you an idea of the level of rotation we undertook back then.
Tonight’s only rotation will be from players that aren’t fit and yesterday Arteta confirmed that there are still some he is not 100% sure about. On Declan Rice, for example, he was quick to point out that he has been in training, but not as much as some of the other players, so he’s not a 100% confirmed ‘okay’ for tonight. If I was a betting man, however, I’d be expecting him to start. Thomas Partey will still not be in the match day squad and whilst Jorginho has looked better in the last few months when fit, a midfield of him, Odegaard and Havertz does slightly worry me for the lack of running power back towards our own goal.
Perhaps that won’t be as much of an issue this evening though? After all, Forest make the fourth highest number of long passes over 40 yards in the league and 67% of their goal kicks are launched, so it’ll be an aerial battle that we can expect for most of the time. They also make the third least number of key passes in a game (passes leading to a shot) and so I think their plan for this evening will be to try to contain us and then hit us with longer balls for our defence and their attack to chase down. They make a lot of tackles and have won the second highest in the league with the highest number in the defensive third in the league; Forest will absolutely here for containment.
And so Arsenal need to be able to respond. We need to be able to find a way unlock a Forest side who have conceded 23 in 11 matches at home. That means it is incumbent on our forwards to be doing the business and so my hope is that the 5-0 win, coupled with more recharging time of the batteries, will enable these players to come out at Forest and properly take the game to them. The last two defeats we’ve had to them have come through sloppy defensive errors and that is what Forest will want tonight. Last season in the league it was Gabriel who just couldn’t get his toes right as the ball (admittedly somewhat unluckily) rebounded off the Forest attacker and in. And the season before we were out of the FA Cup after a Lewis Grabban goal towards the end capped off a pretty miserable evening in Nottingham for me, I have to say. So as long as we don’t do anything stupid from set pieces, or through individual silly mistakes, my hope is that we create chances and keep them out at the back.
Forest themselves have questions over a number of first teamers, with Awoniyi back in after injury and Elanga also joining their first team training in the last few days. If you recall it was those two that combined for Forest’s goal at the Emirates earlier in the season and I suspect Nuno will look to have them on from the pitch to see if they can stretch us in the closing stages of the game. Whether they can do from the start remains to be seen. They’ve also got Nuno Tavares out as he can’t play against us, as well as Origi out and with Forest having sent six players to the AFCON (Serge Aurier, Willy Boly, Sangare. Niakhate, Kouyate all having been in action recently, there might be a few questions as to how strong this Forest team will be if those returning injured players are free. I don’t know enough about Forest to know about how many of those players are important cogs in the team, but with so many players missing of late, I’d be expecting Forest to have fielded pretty strong teams in their recent FA Cup games and given there was a replay for Forest in there too, perhaps we can benefit from an opposing team feeling fatigue for a change?
Regardless of that, we need a win tonight, because the Scousers and City will absolutely beat Chelsea and Burnley at home respectively. So it feels like anything else other than a victory will almost certainly feel like any title hopes are starting to fade. But win this evening and we go in to the game against Liverpool on Sunday knowing a win cuts that gap for sure and puts us right in the mix again. But you have to do the business on a ground that will be rocking tonight because of their recent history against us. It’s time for us to correct that.
If you fancy checking out some preview podcast action, then James hosted the latest Same old Arsenal pod yesterday evening which you can listen in to here. Otherwise, I’ll catch you all tomorrow for a debrief of what transpires in the Midlands this evening.
Have a good one folks. Up the Arsenal.