Result: Nottingham Forest 1-0 Arsenal
Competition: Premier League
Date: 20 May 2023
Venue: City Ground
Arsenal: Ramsdale, White, Kiwior, Gabriel, Xhaka, Jorginho, Partey, Odegaard, Trossard, Jesus, Saka
Subs: Turner, Holding, Walters, Tierney, Vieira, Smith Rowe, Bandeira, Nketiah, Cozier-Duberry
Taiwo Awoniyi’s first half strike condemned Arsenal to a 1-0 defeat at Nottingham Forest that confirmed Manchester City as Premier League champions.
The Gunners came into the game hoping to make Pep Guardiola’s side wait another day for a third consecutive title but they produced a limp performance against a side that secured their top-flight status in front of a raucous home crowd.
Mikel Arteta made two changes from the side that started against Brighton. Leandro Trossard replaced the injured Gabriel Martinelli and Thomas Partey took over from Kieran Tierney. The Ghanaian returned in midfield meaning Granit Xhaka moved to left-back to assume the Oleksandr Zinchenko role; the Ukrainian was sidelined by a calf issue. The bench included three teenagers, Reuell Wallters, Mauro Bandeira and Amario Cozier-Duberry. Reiss Nelson was ill and missed out.
Arsenal were quick to take the sting out of a fervent home atmosphere, settling quickly into a system that was both familiar and unusual. We had loads of the ball in the opening 10 minutes and, playing without any particular pressure, were patient and composed in possession.
The movement of Odegaard and Saka was good, as was the willingness of Jesus to try and spin behind his markers. A ball from the Norwegian set up a half-chance for the Brazilian who was closed down quickly by Kaylor Navas. Soon after, the Brazilian headed over from a corner as we continued to probe.
The home side had barely had a kick but on the break, they worked a chance that led to an opener. Odegaard was sloppy in the way he conceded possession but after that Forest were ruthless. Gibbs-White raced forward, his pass found Taiwo Awoniyi and when Gabriel Magalhaes attempted a tackle, the ball flicked up off the striker and over Ramsdale. (GOAL 1-0)
A clever corner nearly led to a quick equaliser. Saka fed a bouncing ball to Trossard on the edge of the box and the Belgian’s first time effort went just wide. It pretty much summed Arsenal up. We weren’t short of effort or guile but when push came to shove we didn’t have enough quality to capitalise on our dominance of the ball.
In the dying seconds of the half, the same corner routine resulted in the same result. Saka fed Trossard and this time the effort went way over the bar leading to raucous cheers from Forest fans.
City were quickest out of the traps and came close to doubing their advantage inside two minutes after a set piece was lofted into the box. Ramsdale ended up clawing away an effort at his near post and eventually claimed the second of two corners to settle our nerves.
That early flurry of activity aside, Forest were happy to sit back and soak up pressure. The question was whether Arsenal could find a way to unpick the lock.
In truth, we were laboured in possession, and struggled to find any real tempo or create chances of real merit. Jesus had a penalty claim dismissed – and ended up in the book when he complained about it – Saka stung Navas’ palms and Jorginho fired wide from a corner.
That was the signal for Arteta to switch things up. Tierney and Nketiah replaced Xhaka and Kiwior and not long after Vieira replaced Trossard.
In between, Gibbs-White found the sidenetting after Ben White gave away possession on the edge of the box and Jorginho tried his luck on the half volley with an effort that cleared the bar. It was all very tepid from the Gunners who faffed about in a similar vein well into the final 10 minutes.
There was no cutting edge at all and the sight of Gabriel Jesus slipping over his own feet when trying to cross was enough to make you chuck the TV remote through the window. If you hadn’t done it by then, watching the entire Arsenal midfield allow Morgan Gibbs-White all the space in the world to fire at Ramsdale should have tipped you over the edge.
Did it really matter? Not really. Was it annoying? Of course.
This Arsenal side has produced a series of memorable moments this season but this was a second performance in a row to forget. Fingers crossed we can get out of the funk when we face Wolves in the final game of the season. It’s been a memorable ride but the end can’t come soon enough now.