Football is a funny old game, isn’t it? Just three weeks ago, Steve Cooper was walking a tight rope at Nottingham Forest. 20 days and a new contract later, and the Reds have finally steadied the ship, losing just one of their last four games – including a massive win against Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool. Cooper’s side still sits bottom of the Premier League, but are full of fresh optimism that they have what it takes to survive in the top flight. Up next, a gruelling trip to the capital – can they maintain their good form?
Mikel Arteta could be well on his way to picking up Manager of the Season. The Spaniard is currently in his third full season at Arsenal and has turned the Gunners from Europa league regulars to title contenders. Last season ended in dreadful fashion, with the North London side missing out on the top-four to rivals Tottenham Hotspur. This season, however, they’re the only side to keep pace with reigning Champions Manchester City and have gone toe-to-toe with Pep Guardiola’s side. If Arteta can maintain this success until May, he has a big chance of usurping his former teacher.
WHEN & WHERE?
Where: The Emirates, London.
When: Sunday 30th October.
Time: 2 pm BST.
Referee: Simon Hooper.
Assistants: Adrian Holmes, James Mainwaring.
Fourth official: Thomas Bramall.
VAR: Andre Marriner.
Assistant VAR: Darren Cann.
Lewis O’Brien is nearing a return to action and could be in line to play this weekend – but after the performance against Liverpool it would be surprising to see Cooper make any changes unless he really had to. It’s very likely Forest lineup with the same starting eleven that they used last weekend.
After two poor results in the league and in Europe, Arsenal will be determined to get back to their best. Expect nothing but their strongest squad as a fully fit Arsenal aim to pick up all three points to put some distance between themselves and Manchester City.
It’s quite amazing how one performance can change an entire outlook on the season ahead. Prior to their game against Liverpool, it was hard to pinpoint exactly what was going well for Nottingham Forest, but for 90 minutes against Klopp’s side every man was exceptional – and they will need to be again on Sunday.
When out of possession, Forest will look to get as many men behind the ball as possible. Against Liverpool they spent most of the game on the back foot, only attacking when there was an opportunity to counter. Learning from his mistakes of a two-man midfield, Cooper’s switch to a 4-3-3 has seen Forest become a lot more solid defensively, with Yates, Freuler and Kouyate all able to protect the back four and break up play. After the tough test against Liverpool, Nottingham Forest will once again be under the cosh against the Gunners and will need to be compact in the final third, making it tough for Gabriel Jesus and co to find the space to get shots off.
Going forward Forest were excellent against Liverpool, they moved the ball forward quickly and exploited the spaces left by the forward-thinking full-backs which often gave them numerical superiority. There was a handful of chances last weekend where they were through two-on-one and if it had been for the quality of Alisson it could have been a more embarrassing result for Liverpool.
Arsenal come into this game on the back of a draw against Southampton and a defeat against PSV in the Europa League, but the hosts will still be confident of three points. It isn’t a fluke that they are top of the league, with Arteta installing a rigid defence and a free-flowing attack. The quality on the flanks make it easy for Arsenal to exploit wide spaces before moving the ball into dangerous positions, something that Forest have struggled to deal with all season.
Against Liverpool near enough every chance the visitors had came from crosses, corners or throw-ins where the ball was lofted into the box. Forest cannot deal with in swinging balls and if Arsenal can get into these positions the visitors will have to hope Dean Henderson can replicate his performance from last Saturday.
Arsenal – Granit Xhaka
Over the years I’ve often seen Granit Xhaka as a mistreated player at Arsenal. Playing in a deeper position than he did in Germany, Xhaka was ridiculed by the fans during his time in England. This season however the Swiss international has become one of Arteta’s stand-out players and is one of the frontrunners for a place in this year’s team of the season.
The midfielder is playing in a more advanced role than usual which allows him to help create, and finish more opportunities. With an incredibly powerful left-foot, Nottingham Forest needs to be careful when Xhaka gets the ball in the final third – especially given their record of dealing with efforts from outside the box. If Steve Cooper’s side sit deep and limit spaces around the box, Xhaka will have all the room he needs to take aim from distance. He could be a big threat on Sunday afternoon.
Nottingham Forest – Dean Henderson
I don’t think I’ll ever stop talking about last weekend’s win, it’s made picking a key player a lot harder than it has been in recent weeks. Morgan Gibbs-White and Taiwo Awoniyi could have both made the cut and could still have a huge role to play on Sunday, but I can’t look past the performance of Dean Henderson.
Nottingham Forest’s defence had been abysmal prior to Cooper’s new contract – and that’s not an exaggeration. You could see how visibly frustrated Henderson was with his performances and that of those around him. Look back at the Brighton game and some incredible saves helped Forest walk away with a point, at home against Liverpool he was even more instrumental and if it wasn’t for a plethora of fine saves the Reds could have easily been on the losing side. Henderson made a number of impressive stops to keep the likes of Virgil Van Dijk, Mo Sallah and Harvey Elliot at bay. Henderson is back to his best, and he’s going to need to be against a talented Arsenal attack.
Arsenal lineup vs Nottingham Forest: Ramsdale, Tomiyasu, Saliba, Gabriel, White, Xhaka, Partey, Martinelli, Odegaard, Saka, Jesus.
Nottingham Forest lineup vs Arsenal: Henderson, Williams, McKenna, Cook, Aurier, Freuler, Kouyate, Yates, Gibbs-White, Awoniyi, Lingard.