After an excellent October for Arsenal, Paul Williams lets himself get a little excited…
What a month that was.
I think most Premier League football watchers, with Arsenal at their hearts or otherwise, were looking at October 2022 with great interest.
How would Mikel Arteta balance the twin demands of Thursday night Europa League games with the demands of the Premier League? Especially with tricky away games at Southampton & Leeds and home games against Spurs and Liverpool in the calendar…
It’s a measure of the progress made, I think, that many Arsenal fans came away from the Southampton game frustrated that we hadn’t made the most of a very good first half performance and had to settle for a point.
Obviously, the slight tonking we got at PSV was a bit of a worry too. Although we do remain in the box seat to qualify first from our group (and therefore avoid the extra fixture against the Champions League droppers)
Liverpool may not be any good any more, but the idea that this Arsenal team have entered November 15 (yes, fifteen) points ahead of them would have seemed utterly incredible to you if you’d been offered it a month ago. Perhaps there are also people reading this who would have been surprised by the way we bullied them into submission in the second half of our pulsating 3-2 victory a couple of weeks ago.
I keep telling everyone who asks that all I’m looking at when I look at the league table is who’s fifth and what the gap is.
From that point of view, David De Gea’s acrobatic reminders to us all that he is a goalkeeper of some ability are just a little frustrating. But when viewed through the prism of Chelsea being dismantled at Brighton and Liverpool’s first home defeat since records began, we can be a little phlegmatic about it.
What also helps, I suppose, is the way we have bookended October with thoroughly impressive home performances and it is our home form, I now believe, which will likely see safe passage through to Champions League qualification next season. There hasn’t been much to complain about on our travels yet, but given the amount of tough fixtures awaiting us – well, many rivers to cross and all that.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I was lucky enough to be in an extremely raucous Clock End with James Craddock for the Nottingham Forest game and though we didn’t admit it to each other till afterwards, the weekend’s results had given us serious, topical, heebie jeebies about our chances against them.
What on earth were we so worried about?
The habitual fast start at home emphasised by Gabriel Martinelli spreading the ball wide to Bukayo Saka and sprinting into the penalty area, before anyone realised he was there, to meet Saka’s return cross with a pinpoint diving header. One nil to the Arsenal and a touching moment as the entire team paid tribute to Pablo Mari, recent victim of a horrific stabbing incident, by posing with his shirt.
From then on, it was just a question of how many, particularly following a Benny White White White block to deny Lingard.
Gabriel Jesus didn’t quite get enough bend on the ball to end a scoring drought that is now a month long. The biggest impact anyone in a Nottingham Forest shirt had on the first half was the state sanctioned assault that was committed on Bukayo Saka – smashed in the very first minute and who had to leave the field of play after 27.
Interestingly, with the World Cup now a matter of weeks away, some of the English sports media have belatedly realised that our young winger is taking an absolute battering every time he goes out on the pitch and getting absolutely nothing in the way of protection from referees. A state of affairs exemplified by the very curious decisions made by a certain Robert Jones, of Merseyside (hmmm), in relation to Saka both at home to Aston Villa and at Southampton last week.
In this instance, there was a degree of karmic retribution to come for Forest, although we would have to wait for the second half for it to happen. Arteta’s decision to bring on Reiss Nelson and not Fabio Vieira certainly raised our eyebrows at the time, but perhaps given the context of the substitution and Forest’s physical approach, it made sense.
It was Nelson who put the game to bed early in the second half, crashing the ball into the top corner following a pleasingly vertical move involving Ramsdale, Partey, Xhaka and Jesus.
Nelson dropped his shoulder to make space for a left foot shot, Henderson’s save falling nicely for Reiss to bury the ball with his right foot. A bit more elaboration followed just minutes later with Ødegaard doing very well to keep the ball under pressure in the penalty area, before finding Jesus, his first time crossed flicked in by Nelson who had covered the length of the pitch to get to the near post.
For the second time in a month, James and I were at the other end of the pitch from a Thomas Partey rocket, although on this occasion, I was looking right down the line of his shot from behind the Clock End goal as he hit it and so was celebrating almost before the ball crashed into the net. James had just finished taking a photo, so he missed the identity of the goalscorer. In amongst the limbs, the sight of Aaron Ramsdale Lee Dixoning it in the direction of the East Stand is still raising a smile a few days later.
“Nelson got the assist for that too!” I heard someone say in front of me. I mean technically, they were correct, but it was hardly putting the ball on a plate for him.
Martin Ødegaard would complete the rout with habitually quick feet and a less than habitual emphatic finish into the top corner.
In a month where our centre forward hasn’t scored since the Spurs game, Mikel Arteta must be delighted with 10 goals scored in four Premier League games and the goals which have been scored by Partey, Xhaka & Ødegaard.
This is, very obviously, something which wasn’t happening too often last season and is equally obviously, an important aspect of the development of this team into Premier League contenders.
Similarly, it’s okay to sit here and say that Nottingham Forest weren’t, and aren’t, very good. However, you then also have to acknowledge that we haven’t beaten anyone at home 5-0 since Wenger days. One of the things Arsène generally did very well was send his teams out to absolutely destroy cannon fodder at the Emirates – and we haven’t really done that since he left. So if this is the beginning of the next stage of our development, it’s an extremely welcome one.
Fortress Emirates? Maybe…