When I penned my thoughts yesterday morning about how the game would be another difficult to break down Forest side, that we’d be up against a team who wanted to rapid transition counter and a side that would want us to have the ball, I don’t think I envisioned a first half that was quite as flat and lifeless as that was yesterday evening.

I’m not expecting Forest fans, players and the manager to suddenly decide that they wanted to adopt a high-pressing, possession-based, high-tempo game trying toi pin us back in our own half; if they did that then with the way we like to invite pressure on to us, we’d have ripped them to shreds. But I didn’t expect them to show absolutely zero ambition to get forward and in that opening 45 minutes it was a painful game to watch. I saw some of the stats which I won’t bother reeling off because if you watched the game then you know too hour one-sided that first half was, but as a game in itself it wouldn’t have been one that the ‘neutral’ (whoever that is) would have enjoyed. Arsenal retained possession of the ball almost exclusively in the first half; Forest were content to sit almost on their own six yard line at times and lump the ball away. And to be fair to them, it was a tactic that worked. At halftime they had congested the middle of the park, they had forced us to play our football with them able to completely face up to us, they had allowed little space for through balls and you could see that it would have been frustrating for those Arsenal players. There were times at which it felt like we were playing at walking pace; one touch, two touches, then three, four, sometimes five, all by one player before releasing the ball. We didn’t seem to have any cutting edge and the result of that was the manifestation of a slow-tempo game in which it felt like we wanted to walk the ball in to the net.

I wonder if that a consequence of the low block – one of the lowest I think I’ve seen all season – was that our players felt the need to thread the eye of the needle with the passing in the final third. Get beyond that low block with the right move and you’ve basically got a tap in against Turner. Regardless of that, there wasn’t much variation in our play and Forest at times were happy to push us out wide and have their centre halves nod away every ball in to the box. For big, beefy, centre halves, that sort of stuff is meat and drink for a Premier League level defender.

There were a few lively moments I thought; Saka and Smith Rowe combined well and were unlucky when a deflection went the other side of the post, plus we had ESR looking more like the guy who brought us back to life in that December 2020 period in Arteta’s second season – he was looking for options, gliding across the pitch, keeping possession well and linking up play with Martinelli and Zinchenko too. But it wasn’t that middle third that was the problem, it was the final third, so when the halftime whistle went the online discourse was very much of frustration and angst. Is this going to be another one of those games in which we dominate everything but get sucker-punched? The story sounded familiar. After all, Forest did just that to us last season at the City Ground when they beat us 1-0 with a counter in which Awoniyi got a little fortune by Gabriel kicking the ball off his shins for it to make its way past Ramsdale. 

There was indeed a whiff of historical familiarity in the air, but thankfully it wasn’t in Forest’s favour and instead in ours, as the second half showed. Much like the game at The Emirates, we continued to be the better team, but in the second half more space began opening up. Whether or not that is because Nuno on the sidelines had told his team to stay compact in the first half and focus on nothing but defence, then in the second half he gave them more licence to roam I don’t know, but what I do know is that in that second half Forest became a little more ambitious and – perhaps spurred on by the home fans who had seen little to excite them in the first half, the players felt a little more empowered to come at us a bit.

But that’s exactly what we want with teams. It may feel uncomfortable for us to see opposition players venturing forward in greater numbers, but I think that element of jeopardy for this Arsenal team is what we need. Trust in the defenders to be able to deal with a greater level of attack and then spring surprises in transition. 

We started to find space. Gabriel Jesus probably should have scored with his shot off the post, certainly Saka and Odegaard should have done better with a couple of efforts, but as soon as the breakthrough came, you knew the match would open up. It was a smart turn to shield the ball away from the defender from Gabriel Jesus and perhaps Turner could have done better, but sometimes the ‘keeper just isn’t expecting that kind of quick reaction. Still I think he’ll be disappointed. 

From there it forced Forest forward a little more to get something from the game and that gave us more transitional chances, of which our second goal was one. Odegaard to Gabriel Jesus to Saka, all within about 12 seconds I think. It was rapid, the passing was crisp from both Norwegian and Brazilian and the outcome was a doubling of the lead that we thoroughly deserved.

I tweeted after that goal that I thought we should be able to open them up now, but it sort of sucked the life out of the game for about 10 minutes and we just kept the ball and made the game seemingly safe. 

Or so we thought.

And this is where it felt like a little bit of history repeating itself because Forest had basically offered nothing at the Emirates and then got a counter goal towards the end of the game through that same man Awoniyi who in yesterday evening’s game was able to use a bit of strength and then slot home tidily enough to make it 2-1 and set up seven minutes of injury time in which we as fans were all biting our nails down to the stubs.

But had Forest have actually got something against us it would have been a bit of a travesty of justice really, because they’d offered little until that moment. Sure, there was a couple of scary corners and a little bit of goalmouth action, but we saw it out and thoroughly deserved the three points.

And here we all sit this morning knowing that we can look at that Liverpool game now and see it as a massive opportunity to be back in the running at least for the league. It still feels like we’re just waiting on that City ‘long run’, but all we have to try to do for now is keep pace and that will hopefully continue this weekend. Fingers crossed for Sunday.

Right, that’s me done for the day – you have yourselves a good one and I will catch you all in the morrow tomorrow.