It was all in the space of six minutes, and it is just the season’s first game. There are far more daunting tests to hurdle in the coming months before an accurate reflection can be surmised as to how far Arsenal have bridged the gap to Manchester City.
But on this showing, the same aspect shone through from the previous campaign: moments of individual brilliance.
The Gunners were not at their best. The final 10 minutes gave a flavour of past insecurity and difficulties in handling extreme pressure.
When Taiwo Awoniyi’s strike surpassed goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale with eight minutes of regulation time left, following an almighty 50-yard dash from Anthony Elanga, surrounding worry could be felt.
Bukayo Saka scored what proved to be the decisive goal to give the Gunners a winning start to the 2023-24 campaign
Eddie Nketiah opened the scoring for the Gunners with a fine strike after Gabriel Martinelli produced a stunning piece of skill
Nketiah celebrates with new Arsenal star Declan Rice and the rest of his Gunners’ team-mates after his goal
Definitely so when Morgan Gibbs-White shot over the bar just two minutes later.
But the two goals which sealed victory against a stubborn Nottingham Forest were pieces of magic, which can only be manufactured by the league’s better players.
After 26 minutes, Martinelli was surrounded by Danilo and Serge Aurier. Instead of passing sideways or backwards, the Brazilian went through both with a Cruyff turn. The ball landed in Eddie Nketiah’s path, and his strike beat ex-team-mate Matt Turner after a minor deflection off a defender.
That had deflated the away side after a resilient start, so Saka’s sublime goal, which saw the 21-year-old curl the ball into the top-left corner from outside the area, left them grounded. A kick to the groin, in many ways.
Yes, Mikel Arteta was left frustrated in parts, waving his arms aloft, calling on his men to speed up play. But that’s because he knows how much they are capable of.
Actions speak louder than words, with Arsenal’s actions this summer translating of a club who only have the No1 spot in mind.
Though even the most ardent Gunners follower would have felt stumped by this line-up.
Gabriel, after a fair showing in the Community Shield victory over Manchester City, was dropped for Nketiah.
Saka found the top corner of the net with a stunning curling effort in an early goal of the season contender for the Gunners
MATCH FACTS AND RATINGS
ARSENAL (4-1-2-3): Ramsdale 6.5; Partey 6.5, White 6.5, Saliba 6.5, Timber 6 (Tomiyasu 50min, 6); Rice 7; Odegaard 7.5, Havertz 6; Saka 8, Nketiah 6.5, Martinelli 7.5.
Manager: Mikel Arteta 6.5.
NOTTINGHAM FOREST (3-4-3): Turner 5.5; Boly 6, Worrall 6, McKenna 6; Aurier 5.5, Yates 6, Mangala 6, Aina 7 (Williams 72, 6); Danilo 6 (Awoniyi 71, 6), Johnson 6.5 (Elanga 80), Gibbs-White 6.
Booked: Mangala, Aina.
Manager: Steve Cooper 6.
Referee: Michael Oliver 6.
That left Thomas Partey to slot in at right back, and Ben White shifting to centre back.
A lot of tinkering, furthering Arteta’s joy in ensuring no player is completely assured of their position week to week.
It’s arguably a page from Pep Guardiola’s philosophy on winning across a campaign.
This rationale has benefits, of course. A hungry player has a heightened endeavour over one who is comfortable.
Still, if you were to ring the changes, against Forest in the season’s opener is arguably of a lower risk.
The squad’s depth was reflected by quality players including Takehiro Tomiyasu and Jakub Kiwior left on the bench, and Kieran Tierney not even making the squad.
There was frustration for the Gunners as summer signing Jurrien Timber went off with an injury early into the second-half
Arsenal had a late scare after Anthony Elanga’s stunning solo run set up Taiwo Awoniyi to get one back after 82 minutes
Nottingham Forest’s changes made a difference in the game but it ultimately proved too late for them to secure a draw
IT’S ALL KICKING OFF!
The afternoon started in farce, a shambolic failure of Arsenal’s new digital ticketing system delaying the match with thousands of supporters stranded outside.
The e-ticket system had collapsed, leaving fans unable to scan their e-tickets on the turnstiles.
It was a dangerous lapse, and one that can’t be repeated. The game subsequently kicked-off 30 minutes late, the home side looking to make up for lost time with a snuffed attack after two minutes.
Forest’s only real chance of note arose in the first half on 12 minutes. It was the kind that must go in to stand a chance against the league’s better teams.
The ball ricocheted forward in open play, Brennan Johnson left one-on-one against Ramsdale.
Ramsdale sprinted off his line. Johnson, clearly overawed by the onrushing keeper, lobbed it over. A crucial, crucial chance.
Declan Rice had a quietly effective game in midfield and he had a shot which was pushed off the post in the second-half
Mikel Arteta was off seat throughout the final ten minutes of the game and was relieved his side held on to take the win
Later, Johnson eagerly closed down William Saliba, nearly getting another chance towards goal but Ben White was on hand to clear up the mess.
There was little else for the away team in the first period — aside from Arsenal chances, and goals.
Martin Odegaard and Saka combined like clockwork on the right, dainty passages of play twisting the opposition one way then the other.
Captain Odegaard played through Kai Havertz, who collided with ex-team-mate Matt Turner — his transfer to Forest completed just days earlier.
The energetic Nketiah stuck his leg out on Turner’s clearance kick after 22 minutes, the ball flew past the goal.
Declan Rice then had an audacious attempt at goal before the half ended.
Jurrien Timber fell to the floor in discomfort minutes after the restart, and had to be replaced by Tomiyasu.
After impressing during pre-season, this was not a good sign.
Rice had another couple of attempts at goal, one nearly arrowing into a bottom corner only for Turner to thwart.
But the magic had already been used up.
Kick-off was delayed by 30 minutes after there were issues with Arsenal’s new ticketing system at the Emirates