Gunners do just enough to claim victory in season opener

Saka scores for Arsenal

Bukayo Saka (right) gets a head pat from teammate Eddie Nketiah after scoring his second goal of the match against Nottingham Forest at Emirates Stadium. Arsenal won 2-1. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Arsenal opens with all of its new acquisitions

Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal wanted to make a statement as their Premier League campaign kicked off at home. A statement of intent on getting down to business in earnest. The Gunners had stumbled at the finish line last year and would look to do nothing wrong this time around.

On Saturday afternoon, Arsenal did enough to get off to a winning start against Nottingham Forest at a noisy Emirates stadium. They looked solid and untroubled for most of the match, except for a nervous final 15 minutes, eventually prevailing 2-1.

In some ways, the result banishes the demons of their forgettable defeat to Forest last season, a defeat that then gave Manchester City an unassailable lead and the title.

Arsenal’s signings this year have been impressive, while Nottingham Forest’s have been steady. The Gunners gave all their new signings club debuts – Declan Rice, Kai Havertz, and Justin Timber – while Forest’s main signings, Anthony Elanga, the winger from Manchester United, and striker Chris Wood from Newcastle, started on the the bench.

Two goals in 6 minutes settles Arsenal nerves

Arsenal’s 4-3-3 formation on the sheet had Thomas Partey slotted into the right-back position instead of his usual midfield perch. Eddie Nketiah led the attack in the absence of an injured Gabriel Jesus.

Nottingham Forest had Matt Turner in the goal against his old team, with the tricky and talented Brennan Johnson leading the attack. As usual they lined up planning to fight their way out of the press and look for counter-attacking chances.

Soon after the start, Arsenal settled into a slow rhythm, passing the ball around with ease. For its part, Forest kept its formation and held on.

With the Gunners keeping possession and pressing, it was only a matter of time before something happened. Gabriel Martinelli picked up a lobbed clearance outside the box with his back to the Forest goal. With three defenders on his back, he ran around them in a wide circle, reached the touchline, and threaded in a back-heel to Eddie Nketiah, who scored through a few Forest bodies.

It was not long after that Arsenal’s talisman Bukayo Saka again proved why he is so important to this team. Saka picked up a ball on the top of the box, slid past a Forest defender, and unleashed a stunning left-footed shot into the top corner. His former teammate Turner was never in with a chance to save. Saka continues to be the one, creating the chances with his runs down the right.

Nottingham Forest hardly had a look at the Arsenal goal in the entire first half. Their best chance came when a loose ball fell to Johnson,  who with just the goalkeeper to beat, shot wide.

Late charge from Nottingham Forest doesn’t help

The second half did nothing to change Forest’s approach. and  Arsenal seemed content with careful probing without stretching themselves for more goals.

Forest were struggling to keep possession and hardly looked a threat. In the 82nd minute, Elanga, who came on as a substitute, made a blistering run down the left flank. As the retreating Arsenal defenders tried to close him down, he pinged in a measured low jab into the box, which was promptly prodded home by another of the substitutes, Taiwo Awoniyi. It was Awoniyi whose goal had consigned Arsenal to that fateful defeat last season, and he seemed to have perked up the Forest team again.

A flurry of long balls and runs into opposing territory followed, but none of them produced enough to threaten Arsenal as they held on to get the 3 points on offer.

Arsenal have begun well. The fluidity and organization of the team, a highlight of their campaign last year, seemed intact and that would give them confidence, something they will need in steady supply if they have to challenge Manchester City.