London – Arsenal’s 2-1 away victory over Nottingham Forest on Tuesday kept their Premier League title dreams alive, but it also highlighted the thin line Mikel Arteta’s side walk in their quest to be crowned champions come May.
The Gunners dominated possession and carved out chance after chance, yet found themselves clinging to all three points after Forest’s late consolation strike. Arsenal’s forwards were profligate in front of goal for much of the match, reminding many of their struggles earlier this season. Arteta resisted the urge to sign attacking reinforcements in January, putting his faith in his existing options. With the title race set to go down to the wire, Arsenal’s seasoned strikers must rediscover their ruthlessness to fire the North London club to glory.
Arsenal’s patient approach failed to unlock Forest early on. The Gunners monopolized the ball, patiently probing for an opening. But despite 81% first half possession, they failed to register a single shot on target. Bukayo Saka came closest, his effort deflected narrowly wide. It was a continuation of Arsenal’s concerning trend of dominating without converting chances seen during their pre-Christmas slump.
As the second half wore on, urgency crept into Arsenal’s play. Their perseverance finally paid off when Gabriel Jesus spun his marker to slot home from a tight angle in the 65th minute. It was no less than the Brazilian’s endeavour deserved. Arsenal’s second followed just 7 minutes later. A Forest error allowed the Gunners to counterattack at pace, Saka exchanging passes with Jesus before firing clinically into the bottom corner.
The brace of goals highlighted Arsenal’s ability to find different routes to goal, whether via their patented possession play or on the break. “We were able to generate chances in various ways which is pleasing,” noted Arteta. “I think we showed a lot of maturity to control the game the way we had to.”
Jesus’ industry and link up play exemplified Arsenal’s desire. Playing through discomfort in his knee, the striker led from the front. “Gabi started to win the game two days ago,” praised Arteta. “He had an issue with his knee and everyone was trying to protect him and saying don’t go outside. But he was saying [matchday] -2, [matchday] -1, I want to be there I want to help the team to win the game. When you have that mentality, good things are going to happen. I’m really pleased with him.”
Yet Jesus will rue his glaring first half miss, scuffing wide with the goal gaping. Profligacy has plagued Arsenal’s frontline at times this term. New signing Jesus enjoyed a bright start, but has scored just 4 league goals since October. Supporting forwards like Saka and Martinelli have chipped in, but a lack of ruthlessness upfront saw Arsenal drop points during their autumn blip. With Liverpool and City primed to pounce on any slip ups, Arsenal must be clinical during the run-in.
The need for composure was evident as the match wound down. Arsenal became edgy after Forest pulled one back through substitute Awoniyi late on. The Nigerian’s strength and intelligent movement caused problems, and he nearly stole an undeserved point at the death. Defensive frailties remain Arsenal’s Achilles heel, unable to record consecutive league clean sheets since October.
Arteta was left fuming that his side cheaply conceded after dominating. “It got a bit heated. But that means that it’s enough. Playing the way we played the result has to be bigger and the clean sheet has to be there,” rued the Arsenal boss.
It was a sentiment echoed by Arsenal’s players. An on-field row broke out between defenders White and Zinchenko after the final whistle, furious at dropping points so late on. Far from concern Arteta, the spat demonstrated the determination within the squad to maintain their standards. “I love it. They are demanding more from each other. They are not happy with the way they conceded and they are just trying to resolve it,” insisted Arteta.
The City Ground is symbolic of Arsenal’s title anguish. It was here last May their dreams were mathematically ended by City. “What happened last year was still in our tummy,” revealed Arteta. “We wanted to put it right. I could feel that they were talking about it.”
This time Arsenal stand on the cusp of glory. With key creative midfielders like Odegaard in scintillating form, supplying the ammunition is no issue. But Arsenal’s forwards must sharpen their edge to avoid history repeating itself. “Our brains and bodies are really intelligent and when they come to the same situation they are really active. They were really invested and they were really talking about it with each other. I thought the team was really good,” noted Arteta on his players’ determination.
With just 16 games left and City breathing down their necks, Arsenal have no margin for error. Arteta knows the pressure is on his side to hold their nerve and see it through. “The result has to be bigger and the clean sheet has to be there,” demanded the manager.
After years in the wilderness, the Gunners finally have a golden chance to capture that elusive Premier League crown. But as Tuesday’s narrow win shows, delivering when it matters could make or break Arsenal’s title mission.