Hard to imagine Arsenal will have a more comfortable win this season. A **mostly** B-Team went into Nottingham Forest’s park and came out with a dominant 4-0 victory, getting contributions from around the park. The caveat will always be that Forest is a midtable Championship team but having watched similar Arsenal sides struggle against the likes of Sheffield Wednesday and Bradford City, it was a refreshing win non-the-less.
Hard to pick out complaints but let’s see what we can find.
The team was composed. Rotation has the benefits of adding fresh bodies/tactics to a team and the detriments of upsetting team chemistry (the endless fan argument of “you’re damned if you do...”). Picking an entire new starting eleven, heavily leaning to younger players, the cohesiveness of the team was very much in doubt. Encouragingly, this team played very well together. Be it the steady hands of Granit Xhaka, Lucas Perez and Keiran “I’m Still Here” Gibbs or the familiarity and youthful exuberance of Jeff Reine-Adelaide, Chuba Akpom and Rob Holding, it looked like a team. They controlled the play, linked up well, covered for each other, looked prepared to play to their level rather than down to Forest’s. This is the type of performance that reminded me of another young Arsenal team that took this competition all the way to Wembley.
The JEFF-Chuba Connection. It might not be long for these two to be regular bench players. I was very impressed. Both needing just a bit more luck/quality and would have had a goal each.
Lucas Perez. A few games ago, I put his debut in the Bad column, largely on his inability to put any stamp on the game. So let me return the favour. This game, while he was clearly playing as a big fish, gave us a glimpse of what Lucas will bring to the team. He began making the runs and link ups that were the reason to bid on Jamie Vardy. A strong individual goal under pressure and an expertly taking penalty should begin to see him considered more favourably for first team starts.
Goals, Goals, Goals. Never a bad thing to score four goals and Arsenal scored some beauts. Xhaka’s screamer (deflection assisted), Lucas’ run and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s solid finish are a big boost for all three players. Bodes will for the strength of the team.
Defensive Shape. This is entirely forgivable. Gabriel Paulista just drew back into the side after six weeks out and played for the first time with young Rob Holding. Add Ainsley Maitland-Niles playing in his less favoured position opposite Gibbs, this was not a defensive line that knew each other. It broke down a few times pretty badly in ways a tougher opponent likely would have punished. This was Arsenal’s one main weakness yesterday, but fortunately it never got out of hand and Emiliano Martinez was up to what little he had to do.
Has Granit done enough? It’s not bad to be the class of the field in a match, but Xhaka looked well above everyone on the pitch in terms of talent. His play was great; so does that mean enough to push him off the bench during the big games? A partnership with Elneny is not so different than one with Cazorla. He looks ready but having played midweek in a game he might not have been even needed, while all his fellow first team members rested, one would suspect he’s bound for the bench again in Saturday’s big game vs Chelsea.
Henri Lansbury. The ex-Arsenal man followed in the grand boots of Adebayor by playing his former team rather nastily. A few rash challenges, one studs up in the first half, went by largely unnoticed and he should feel lucky to have finished the game with only a yellow. It was not a good or calm game from him.
Let Wenger eat... pie? A home supporter tried to deliver some food to Wenger. Security wouldn’t let him. C’mon, managing is tough work and Wenger is clearly a man of the people who’d love some stadium food, right?
Uh... I really don’t have anything else, I guess, other than it was a pretty good opening round for Premier League sides (oh, Everton) so likelihood of a stronger fourth round opponent is stronger.