The were only four things that weren’t great about last night’s 3rd Round Carabao Cup game against Nottingham Forest. The problems on the trains leading to a delayed kick off, the squally rain that welcomed fans on exiting the match, the concussion suffered by Emile Smith Rowe and the underwhelming display of captain for the night Mesut Ozil.
Aside from that, it was all good and thoroughly enjoyable. Hector Bellerin was on the bench rather than the starting eleven, but better that than rush him back and suffer another injury. It indicates that Calum Chambers will probably retain the right back spot for the trip to Old Trafford. However, both Rob Holding and new signing Kieran Tierney played the full 90 minutes, and both must be in contention for next Monday evening’s game. And Arsenal kept a clean sheet to boot, limiting Forest to five goal attempts, only one of which was on target. Now granted, the opposition are a Championship team, but they currently sit sixth in the table, two points off top place. And they had a reputation for a mean defence coming into last night’s game. In mitigation, they only started four of the players that played three days earlier at home to Barnsley, although a 5-0 scoreline never looks good, whatever line-up you put out.
Arsenal obviously played on Sunday and none of the starting eleven from the win over Villa began against Forest. No surprise as Emery gave match time to those in need of it and some of his younger players. Forest were combative early on, but Unai Emery’s side soon took control of possession and territory. They needed a goal to get through the thicket of opposition defending and fortunately, it came after half an hour courtesy of a decent header from young Brazilian forward Gabriel Martinelli, who latched on to a sweet volleyed cross from right back Chambers. Things opened up a little, but it remained 1-0 at the interval, by which time Smith Rowe had been stretchered off to be replaced by Buyako Saka.
The second half saw Forest gradually tire as they tried to establish parity. However, symbolically, the gap between the sides widened when Mesut Ozil was replaced by Dani Ceballos. Ozil trudged off in predictably funereal pace. He’d not made much impact, in spite of the level of the opposition, and presumably considers the Carabao Cup a level beneath the matches he should be playing in. Yet it’s up to him to make a convincing argument for a return to the first team, and he’s had enough opportunities under Emery without convincing anyone, aside from the home win v Leicester last season. The only reason he is still at the club is his inflated wages, and the hope is that for everyone’s sake, including the player’s, he can settle in pastures new where he will be less marginalized in the matches he plays. Hindsight has told us that the decision to secure Ozil on mega wages was one of the worst in the club’s history, an unfortunate waste of what could be over £60 million in wages. Ozil is a rich man, and enjoys London life (although whether that is true since the attempted carjacking incident during the summer we can’t say). But he isn’t enjoying his football anymore, as last night demonstrated.
The future though, feels a little brighter after the performances of the younger players in the second half. Joe Willock found the net, as did Reiss Nelson, and Martinelli grabbed a second deep into injury time with the goal of the night. In the midst of that, it was good to see Rob Holding score in his comeback game, a goal that saw all the players quite evidently delighted for him.
Hector Bellerin came on for Tierney with 13 minutes left, as Chambers switched to left back. Bellerin gave the assist for Joe Willock’s goal, whilst Chambers did the same from the left wing for Reiss Nelson. Bellerin looked comfortable, and we look forward to his contribution once fully fit. I suspect his first start may be in the home Europa League match against Standard Liege on Thursday next week, when we are likely to see a fair few of the faces from last night, given the visit to Old Trafford is only three nights before.
So a very enjoyable night’s work and a good few well taken goals to send the fans into the late evening rain. And to make things even better, Spurs demonstrated how playing a lower division side can end in humiliation. Arsenal, of course, have been there before, so although we can have a chuckle, memories of crashing out to League Two Bradford City back in 2013 have not, sadly, been erased as yet.
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