Arsenal ease to 4-0 League Cup victory against Nottingham Forest at the City Ground
- Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images
Arsenal eased to a 4-0 victory at Nottingham Forest in the third round of the EFL Cup tonight at a sold-out City Ground.
The goals came from a 23rd minute long-range Granit Xhaka strike, and a brace from new boy Lucas Perez who opened his account with a penalty on the hour, followed by an individual goal ten minutes later – with a late Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain strike rounding the night off.
In truth it was nothing more than the away team deserved, as Forest appeared overawed by the occasion, which saw the Gunners progress to the fourth round.
Wenger made expected wholesale changes with Emiliano Martinez becoming his third first-team keeper of the season in fewer than eight days.
Kieran Gibbs, Gabriel, Lucas Perez, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Rob Holding, Granit Xhaka, Jeff Reine-Adelaide, Chuba Akpom, Mohamed Elneny, and Maitland Niles all started.
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Former Arsenal man Nicklas Bendtner – who once scored 11 out of 10 in a confidence test – made his first start for the home side.
It was fitting the 12th anniversary of Brian Clough’s death fell on a matchday at the evocative old City Ground, for Old Big Head himself wouldn’t have wanted the date to be ignored.
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It was also appropriate his team were playing a club he always respected. For he saw Arsenal’s values of tradition, class and dignity as mirroring his own slightly old fashioned views of respect and discipline – even if at times during his madder moments he stretched the definition of them, not least when cuffing his own fans one night during a pitch invasion following a 5-2 victory over QPR in the late 80s.
There were many memorable moments on the pitch between his men and the North Londoners. The mind raced back to a packed out Highbury on a dull, cold March day in 1988 when his team triumphed 2-1 in the FA Cup quarter final – when the attendance of 54,000 felt like double the number.
A convincing 4-1 City Ground rout in the autumn of 1988, when a young Arsenal team under a young George Graham started to show the world they were set to be a force to be reckoned with.
Or two League Cup fifth round ties in 1987 and 1993 that saw 2-0 victories for Arsenal – with both times seeing the club ultimately lift the trophy – for their only pair of victories in the competition, silverware Wenger has never won it should be added.
Arsenal may have won their last three matches against Forest, beating them in the Premier League in 1997, 1998 and 1999, but that was all very last century.
In the interim the fact is double European Cup winners Forest have had their travails and are still very much struggling to get back into the big time – where a club of their stature most certainly belongs.
But tonight was all about the present. And that meant relative youth for Arsenal.
It was a sell-out at the grand old stadium on the banks of the Trent, the river, where they say, Cloughie used to go for his lunchtime strolls. With 3,700 Arsenal fans making the trip up to the East Midlands the scene was set for an absorbing match.
Arsenal were knocked out when they last faced Championship opponents in the League Cup, losing 3-0 at Sheffield Wednesday last November – and the atmosphere crackled as both sides tested each other out in the early stages.
On ten minutes Bendtner squared the ball for the 24-year-old Swiss midfielder Pajtim Kasami ,currently on loan from Olympiacos, but he rolled the ball wide of Martinez’s right hand post. It was an early warning for the Gunners, as well as a reminder that the Dane did have qualities that were not entirely selfish in nature.
On 12 minutes it was heartening to see the ground rise as one to applaud their hero Clough in a reference to today in 2004, the day he died. It was moving to see the supporters who loved him remember him so fondly.
And once the ovation ended Arsenal fans, who also rose to applaud him respectfully, loudly recalled one of their own too by singing the late, great David Rocastle’s name with gusto.
With 23 minutes of a largely shapeless first half Xhaka made it 1-0. Finding himself in space outside the box a la Hull City on Saturday he fired a shot from around 30 yards out that took a large deflection - but Vladimir Stojkovic should still have done better, showing very soft hands in failing to stop the ball.
The delirious Arsenal fans in the away end weren’t complaining though, and nor was Xhaka, who is beginning to get a taste for shots from distance – even if, as one wag said, ‘Wenger will soon coach it out of him.’
The unexpected goal seemed to deflate not only the supporters but Forest too and apart from a Holding booking on 37 minutes nothing of real note happened as the game slid to half time with the visitors very much in the ascendancy.
The game started very much in the same vein, with honest endeavour from the home side – who incredibly have had 23 managers since Wenger was appointed – but little end product.
On the hour mark Mancienne fouled a lively Akpom leaving referee Paul Tierney no choice but to point to the spot.
With the perfect opportunity to score his first goal Perez stepped up and slotted the ball past the keeper to make it 2-0.
On 70 minutes a visibly confident Perez then waltzed through a backpedalling Forest defence to slot the ball past Stojkovic to make it 3-0 and finish the match as a contest.
Oxlade-Chamberlain then made it 4-0 with a quality strike from the edge of the box after powerful running right on the whistle, after good interplay with Perez.
But as the referee blew for full-time, it was good to see first team defenders such as Gabriel, Gibbs and Holding get a valuable run out, just as it was important for Perez to score his first goals for his new club.
And, as ever it was intriguing to see promising youngsters play for The Arsenal – such as Akpom and substitute Chris Willock.
Whether players like them prove to have a long-term future with the club is a moot point – but no-one can ever accuse Wenger of not giving youngsters a chance in the League Cup.
As the travelling supporters started chants of ‘Wemberlee’ it proved this competition is one that dreams can be forged in – even if in reality this night will only live on in the memory of those who were here.
Stojkovic, Lichaj, Manciene, Mills, Cohen, Lansbury, Osborn, Dumitru-Cardoso, Bendtner (Velios), Pereira, Kasami (Carayol)
Martinez, Gibbs, Perez, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Holding, Xhaka, Reine-Adelaide (Zelalem), Akpom (Willock), Elneny, Niles,
Referee: Paul Tierney
Attendance: 28,567 (with 3,617 away fans)