The 4-1 win over Leeds United on April 1st seems like an eon ago. Since then Arsenal have only managed just nine points from a potential 21. While they clinched the Champions League and a top-two finish during that period, the loss of William Saliba and a dip in form saw an incredible season come to a halt. Mikel Arteta’s best year in charge and the club’s best year since the Invincibles. Can they finish on a high with two wins and shift focus to improving the squad over the summer?
Nottingham Forest’s goal from the start of the campaign has been survival. Picking up points anywhere possible. And their last four matches may have been the stretch to save their season. Wins over Brighton and Southampton, along with a 2-2 draw at Chelsea, has seen them pick up seven of their 34 points, three above the relegation zone. They now close out their home fixtures hosting Arsenal with a lot more to play for than the guests.
TSF: Preseason the goal was surely to avoid relegation. Now with just two matches left, and currently safe, what was surprised the most about the team this year?
1865: The main thing that’s surprised me is the injuries Forest have suffered throughout the campaign. Just as we’ve started to field a settled side we’ve picked up injuries which have meant we’ve needed to chop and change the side on a regular basis and that in turn has affected our form. For example, we’ve lost Dean Henderson who was a big figure in goal, we lost both centre backs to injury within 10 seconds of each other in a game at Fulham, and there have been injuries in practically all positions of the side if you include the likes of Taiwo Awoniyi, Cheikou Kouyate and Moussa Niakhate, who have all had lengthy spells on the sidelines. I believe that had we been able to field a more settled side Forest would be higher in the table and clear of the relegation fight.
TSF: Steve Cooper arrived last September, led the side to promotion through the Championship playoffs, and has overseen the influx of new players to an impressive season back in the top flight. Do you expect the owner to maintain his ‘vote of confidence’ for another year or will they look for a new manager despite Cooper’s performance?
1865: Regardless of what division we’re in next season, I expect Steve Cooper to still be in charge. Evangelos Marinakis has shown his backing to Cooper on more than one occasion this season - when there’s been media talk about his future Marinakis has come out and publically backed the manager. Cooper worked a miracle to get Forest here in the first place and he’s had to contend with the big influx of new players - which was needed to make Forest competitive in the Premier League - and he’s dealt with it impressively. To have Forest in with a chance of safety with two games to go is a fantastic achievement and I think Cooper deserves the opportunity to take Forest on should we stay up, with a more settled squad and hopefully fewer injuries!
Should we go down there’s no one better out there to bring Forest back up than Cooper. Whatever happens in the final two games, he should remain in charge.
TSF: Obviously a lot was made at the start of the season and throughout the year about the massive squad overhaul. With a lot of loans and contracts expiring either this summer or next, how do you expect the club to address the summer transfer window if they avoid relegation?
1865: I expect Forest to have a quieter transfer window in terms of incomings; a lot of work was done last summer to bring in players to be competitive in the Premier League and there won’t be a need to bring in anywhere near as many this time. I think we’ll see a few players move on who have struggled to have an impact on the pitch for various reasons, such as Jesse Lingard and Jonjo Shelvey, and we may have competition from other clubs to keep hold of our loan players like Keylor Navas, Dean Henderson, and Renan Lodi. I don’t expect there to be wholesale changes like last year, the priority will be to build on what we have and try to keep players fit throughout the season.
TSF: While the club hopes to remain in the Premier League, this year put a spotlight on the likes of Brennan Johnson, Taiwo Awoniyi, Taiwo Awoniyi, and Danillo - all who are between 21 and 25 and could each fetch between $25 and $40 million. How many of that quartet can Nottingham Forest hold onto?
1865: I think Forest have a good chance of holding on to all of them provided we retain Premier League status. Awoniyi has impressed when he’s played but has spent a decent chunk of the season injured and I don’t think another Premier League club would be looking at him as an option yet. Danilo arrived in January from Brazil and is still getting used to Premier League football. He has put in some impressive performances recently but like Awoniyi, I don’t think he’s shown enough yet that would make other clubs interested in signing him. Brennan Johnson has reportedly attracted attention from clubs higher up the league and he might be the one Forest struggle to hold on to; he’s proven himself as a Premier League performer this season, scoring and assisting crucial goals, but it will take a sizeable fee to persuade Forest to sell.
TSF: What is your predicted starting XI for Nottingham Forest this weekend and the final scoreline?
1865: My predicted lineup is the same XI that performed well at Chelsea last Saturday: Keylor Navas; Serge Aurier, Joe Worrall, Felipe, Moussa Niakhate, Renan Lodi; Orel Mangala, Danilo, Ryan Yates; Morgan Gibbs-White; Taiwo Awoniyi, with Brennan Johnson to come off the bench later in the game.
It’ll be a tough match against a superb Arsenal side, but given that Forest still need points to guarantee safety and taking into account our good home form I think we’ll get something here: 1-1.
Thanks to Steven and 1865 - The Nottingham Forest Podcast for the time ahead of the penultimate weekend of the season.