Nottingham Forest vs Arsenal report: Granit Xhaka and Lucas Perez give Arsene Wenger plenty to smile about

Nottingham Forest 0 Arsenal 4: Gunners cruise into the fourth round with summer signings Xhaka and Lucas joining Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the scoresheet

Jack de Menezes
The City Ground
Tuesday 20 September 2016 20:51
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Granit Xhaka celebrates after striking a 35-yard effort to put Arsenal ahead of Nottingham Forest
Granit Xhaka celebrates after striking a 35-yard effort to put Arsenal ahead of Nottingham Forest

Arsene Wenger rarely takes the early stages of cup competitions seriously, and this was not an exception. Exactly one week after leaving Petr Cech out of Arsenal’s daunting Champions League trip to Paris Saint-Germain, he made 11 changes to his starting line-up, and was duly rewarded with a second simple victory at Nottingham Forest in the space of four days.

In the past, Arsenal would have slipped up in sending a reserve team to a boisterous Championship side, but in Granit Xhaka and Lucas Perez – two of Wenger’s key signings in the summer – Arsenal turned in a clinical performance to reach the fourth round of the EFL Cup.

Xhaka produced his second long-range goal in the space of four days to steady Wenger’s nerves, before Lucas struck twice in the second half to put the game beyond doubt as Michael Mancienne cracked under pressure. By the closing stages, the away fans were singing Nicklas Bendtner’s name, the home striker applauded them back in recognition of his former club.

Wenger spoke at length about Bendtner earlier this week, and there was a certain irony that they met in the competition where he enjoyed his best form at Arsenal, scoring seven goals in 18 League Cup matches over a nine-year spell. Wenger has never been one to take the League Cup too seriously though, as demonstrated by his mass squad rotation for the majority of games in this competition. The Gunners first venture into the renamed EFL Cup this season followed that trend with the Frenchman naming a completely different starting line-up to the side that eased past Hull 4-1 at the weekend.

£35m summer signing Xhaka was one of those on the scoresheet at the KC Stadium, and the confidence boost has certainly done him a world of good. If he is to achieve just one accolade during his time with Arsenal, you can guarantee it will be scoring the most shots from outside the area. The Swiss is not afraid of letting go from distance, and he scored his second 30-yard effort in the space of four days to give Arsenal the lead when they probably didn’t deserve it.

Arsenal players celebrate Granit Xhaka's goal

Forest should have gone ahead after the returning Gabriel Paulista displayed his rustiness in defence. The Brazilian has not played a competitive game this season after suffering an ankle injury in Arsenal’s pre-season victory over Manchester City, and an under-hit pass to his centre-back colleague Rob Holding allowed Bendtner to pinch possession. He crossed from the right to a charging Pajtim Kasami, who could only mis-hit the ball wide from the edge of the area with his weaker right foot.

Soon after in the 12th minute, the home fans rose to their feet in recognition of the great Brian Clough, the legendary Forest manager who passed away 12 years ago to the day. They were nearly silenced by Chuba Akpom though, with the young forward running onto a through ball from Jeff Reine-Adelaide before forcing Vladimir Stojkovic into a good save as he parried the ball over the crossbar.

Forest were growing into the game, largely thanks to the rampaging runs of right-back Hildeberto Pereira. His surging break from his own half saw the natural winger take on and beat Rob Holding, but Gabriel was there to block the cross. Three minutes later, former Arsenal midfielder Henri Lansbury won the ball with a crunching tackle on Mohamed Elneny in the middle of the park that saw the ball break to Bendtner. He stepped inside onto his favoured right foot but his curling effort from distance went wide of the far post.

But where the home side failed, Xhaka did not. Picking possession up off Alex oxlade-Chamberlain, he worked the ball to a central position 35-yards out and let go of another rocket that took a slight deflection off the back of Chris Cohen before heading towards the top-left corner of the goal. Stojkovic dived a touch too early, perhaps deceived by the deflection, and it forced the Serbian goalkeeper to go for the ball with his left hand while moving to his right. He should have saved the shot, getting a firm hand to it, but instead palmed the ball weakly over his head and into the net.

Forest looked a touch shellshocked after the goal, with the biggest talking point being the contents of a polystyrene box that a fan, who had somehow found his way to the Arsenal technical area, had offered to Wenger. Wenger took no notice, and he was soon removed by stewards.

Nicklas Bendtner in action against his former club

The distraction certainly caught the fans attention, yet it was Forest defender Michael Mancienne who was guilty of losing his for Arsenal’s second goal. Chuba Akpom stole a march on the former Chelsea defender, and when he barged him off the ball, referee Paul Tierney pointed to the spot. Lucas Perez stepped up to score his first goal for the club, calmly placing the ball beyond Stojkovic’s outstretched right hand in the corner.

11 minutes later, Perez had his second and again, Mancienne was at fault. The defender showed a burst of speed to challenge Lucas after he was put through on goal, but the £17m acquisition from Deportivo La Coruna in the summer barged Mancienne off the ball. Lucas took the ball forward, poked it past an on-rushing Stojkovic and stroked is home into the empty net. Mancienne complained, having been penalised for a similar foul on Akpom, but where the Arsenal man hit the deck, Mancienne stayed on his feet, and Tierney waved play on.

Lucas should have completed his hat-trick, snatching at two chances that were both saved by Stojkovic in the closing stages.

Oxlade-Chamberlain put the gloss on the result when Lucas played him through, and the England international took a touch to his left before coolly slotting the ball home left-footed to complete the comfortable evening and ensure Arsenal head into the weekend visit of Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium off the back of two consecutive four-goal victories.

Teams

Nottingham Forest (4-1-4-1): Stojkovic; Pereira, Mancienne, Mills, Lichaj; Cohen; Dumitru-Cardoso (Lica, 81), Lansbury, Kasami (Carayol, 68); Osborn; Bendtner (Vellios, 80).

Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Martinez; Maitland-Niles (Bielik, 37), Holding, Gabriel, Gibbs; Xhaka, Elneny; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Reine-Adelaide (Zelalem, 83), Akpom (Willock, 82); Lucas.

Referee: Paul Tierney

Att: 28,567,

Match rating: 7

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