Arsenal kept their Premier League title ambitions alive at Nottingham Forest as Gabriel Jesus and Bukayo Saka struck in the second half to give the Gunners three points. Mikel Arteta’s team looked set to endure a frustrating night when 65 minutes in, the Brazilian scored from a tight angle with a low shot that went through the legs of home keeper Matt Turner. Bukayo Saka fired into the bottom corner seven minutes later and despite Taiwo Awoniyi’s late consolation, the result sets Mikel Arteta’s men up for a huge clash with Liverpool on Sunday.
Smith Rowe start continues extraordinary stat
To see Emile Smith Rowe back in the Arsenal starting XI was heartening given the injuries that have derailed his career at the Emirates.
Indeed, a sign of the 23-year-old’s recent inactivity is that his last three Premier League starts – Newcastle in May 2022, Sheffield United in October 2023, and at Forest tonight – have come over three different calendar years. The midfielder was lively in the opening stages though, going close 14 minutes in and reguarly linking play as his side pushed forward.
He failed to exert a significant influence thereafter, and was replaced by Kai Havertz with 20 minutes to go. Smith Rowe is unlikely to be in the XI for the visit of the Reds this Sunday, but Arteta’s show of faith tonight indicates he still has a future at the club.
Striking question remains for Arteta
Barring a sensational development in the next 24 hours, Arsenal will indeed finish the January transfer window without the purchase of a new striker that the fans crave.
And Mikel Arteta’s stubborn insistence that he does not need to add to his forward ranks again looked under scrutiny tonight. The five goals the Gunners fired past Crystal Palace last time outappeared a distant memory as they toiled in the first half, taking 36 minutes before Gabriel Jesus finally registered a shot on target.
It was the Brazilian who then fired against the post from close range after the break, and again the lack of a clinical finisher was telling. Finally the No.9 got a decisive goal, but rumours of Ivan Toney heading to the club in the summer will continue to swirl.
No margin for error in Sunday showdown
In a crucial week for Arteta and co, tonight was the easier part – the acid test of their title credentials comes on Sunday.
By the time leaders Liverpool visit North London on Sunday afternoon, the gap could be back to five points, pending how the Reds fare against Chelsea at Anfield tomorrow night. And with Manchester City set to charge with Kevin de Bruyne and Erling Haaland fit and available again – the equation is simple for Arteta. Beat Liverpool and his side are right back in the mix, draw and they’re still alive, but lose, and it’s a top four finish at best.
Wood worry for Forest
Given the extent to which Forest striker Chris Wood was limited to the role of spectator in the first half, it’s hard to imagine that over exertion forced him to be subbed at half time with injury.
But he didn’t appear for the second half, and despite replacement Taiwo Awoniyi scoring, it was a development that will concern fans as much as it will his manager. The New Zealander has been pivotal to his side this season, scoring eight times and being an effective battering ram when Forest have needed to retain possession. A points deduction could yet hamper the club’s survival hopes this season – and an injury problem for Wood will hamper it even more.
Nuno’s Turner trouble
A potential fitness problem for Wood isn’t the only issue that Nuno Espirito Santo needs to sovle to keep his side up.
For over an hour, the hosts were solid and organised tonight, and when the chance arose, counter-attacked at pace. But Turner should have done considerably better with the angled strike from Jesus, which crept between his legs before the ball deflected off the American’s boot and into the net.
It wasn’t the first costly error that Turner has made this season. He appears a keeper low on confidence, and that’s the last thing you need in the midst of a relegation battle.