Arsenal top as Reiss Nelson stars after Bukayo Saka injury

LONDON — Arsenal beat Nottingham Forest 5-0 on Sunday to move back on top of the Premier League table ahead of Manchester City.

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Arsenal took the lead early on as Gabriel Martinelli headed home in the fifth minute, but the Gunners suffered an injury blow as winger Bukayo Saka limped off in the first half. His replacement Reiss Nelson bagged two goals early in the second half, before Thomas Partey‘s rocket made it 4-0 inside an hour. Martin Odegaard then put some gloss on the scoreline in the 78th minute.

ESPN’s Connor O’Halloran has reaction and analysis from Emirates Stadium.

JUMP TO: Player ratings | Best/worst performers | Highlights and notable moments | Postmatch quotes | Key stats | Upcoming fixtures

Rapid reaction

1. Nelson stakes his claim to help replace injured Saka

Saka began the game in outstanding form, proving a constant threat on the right side, but the England winger landed awkwardly under a rough challenge from Forest left-back Renan Lodi on 17 minutes that caused him to limp to the touchline. It looked for a moment like it may have just been a scare, but he went down again shortly after and a member of the Arsenal medical team walked over to manager Mikel Arteta to inform him Saka needed to be substituted.

The England international, who will be looking ahead to next month’s World Cup, has played a lot of football this season. He has started in all but one of Arsenal’s 11 previous Premier League games this season, as well as making appearances in all five Europa League ties, with his creativity and dynamism one of the pillars upon which Arteta’s turnaround has been built. And so, Arteta’s choice of replacement was significant.

Nelson, who hadn’t played a minute in the Premier League this season, got the nod — ahead of Brazilian teenager Marquinhos and €35 million summer signing Fabio Vieira — and he delivered in style. Nelson stole the show in the second half with a well-taken first goal before adding a second moments later as he arrived at the right time to prod home a cross from Gabriel Jesus. It was an interesting choice of replacement, given the 22-year-old’s recent spells on loan at Hoffenheim and Feyenoord, but one that paid off.

It is unclear the extent of Saka’s injury, but should he miss any length of time then Arsenal will need Nelson to continue to provide more performances like he did in the second half.

2. Arsenal ‘reset’ in style after PSV collapse

Arteta looked a little dejected after the midweek defeat at PSV in the Europa League and spoke of needing a “reset.” The Gunners had edged their way to three wins against Bodo/Glimt, Leeds United and PSV, then slumped to a rare 1-1 draw against Southampton before collapsing 2-0 against PSV in the return game.

So, facing a Forest side still buzzing from an upset win over Liverpool, it was time for Arsenal to show the newfound mentality their players have spoken of all season. And it took just a handful of minutes to display just that.

Arteta’s side were ahead within five minutes as Martinelli headed in a superb delivery from Saka. The quick-fire second-half double from Nelson essentially put the game to bed before midfielder Partey got in on the action with a superb strike from the edge of the box. Arsenal scored a fifth through a left-footed rocket from Odegaard on 78 minutes.

In truth, Arsenal never looked troubled in defence, and their attacking efforts were much more clinical than in weeks past. The reset Arteta requested was duly delivered.

A comfortable win over Forest could be seen as much-needed respite for a side that had begun to look a tad jaded. Next they must polish off their Europa League group with a win over FC Zurich, and then face Chelsea and Wolves in their final two Premier League games before the World Cup. Wins there would mean Arsenal go into the break at the top of the table and ensure their stellar start to the season remains firmly intact.

If they have hopes of a title challenge, staying ahead of Manchester City as much as possible over the coming months will be key.

3. Forest need to fix away form … and goals

Forest’s record transfer spending and torrid Premier League form provide stark viewing. The newly promoted side signed a whopping 23 players this summer with over £150m in spending, but it has not gone to plan. A dismal run has left them at the bottom of the table with just two wins — over West Ham in August and against Liverpool last weekend.

Maybe it is tough to judge Forest in games against Liverpool and Arsenal where they were always expected to struggle, but the nature of Sunday’s 5-0 defeat will worry manager Steve Cooper. A late goal from Brennan Johnson against Everton stands as their only away goal so far this season. The City Ground has not been much of a fortress, either.

It paints a grim picture. The fact the club sacked their head of recruitment George Syrianos and head of scouting Andy Scott earlier this month points to a summer of regret, and that was laid bare at the Emirates as two of their big-name arrivals from that period — Jesse Lingard and Morgan Gibbs-White — put in pedestrian performances.

That must now be put in the past: The squad is what they have until January at least, and they must get back on the path to survival.

Player ratings

Arsenal: Ramsdale 6, Gabriel 7, Saliba 7, Tomiyasu 7, White 7, Partey 8, Xhaka 8, Odegaard 8, Gabriel Jesus 8, Gabriel Martinelli 7, Saka 7.

Subs: Nelson 9, Tierney N/A, Nketiah N/A, Soares N/A, Viera N/A.

Forest: Henderson 6, McKenna 5, Cook 5, Lodi 6, Aurier 5, Freuler 6, Kouyate 6, Yates 6, Awoniyi 5, Lingard 5, Gibbs-White 5.

Subs: Johnson 6, Dennis 6, Worrall N/A, O’Brien N/A, Williams N/A.

Best and worst performers

BEST: Reiss Nelson

Despite his small stature, Saka’s exit on 27 minutes left big boots to fill, and Nelson passed the test with flying colours. It was his first Premier Leaue appearance this season and the 22-year-old could prove to be a worthwhile understudy should Saka miss time.

WORST: Jesse Lingard

The former England international did very little in what could have been the kind of counter-attacking game where he usually thrives. Manager Steve Cooper subbed him off after 56 minutes, and he was not missed.

Highlights and notable moments

Arsenal took the lead through Martinelli’s header.

Then Saka went off injured, which had England and Arsenal fans holding their breath.

Substitute Nelson made his case for more minutes with two goals.

Partey and Odegaard then struck two wonderful efforts home to make things safe.

After the match: What the players and managers said

Arsenal winger Nelson: “It was amazing you know, we had a bit of a slow start after the goal but everyone got into the game and it was great to play in. Couldn’t have got gone much better than that for me after coming on. Delighted with the goals and the assist. I have been training for my chance and I got it and tried my best to take it.”

On Saka’s injury, he added: “Of course, it is a huge shame for Arsenal and the nation and we will go and check now and see how he is is. He’s a great boy and it’s great to have him in the team. We are just trying to do well for the gaffer and the team. We’re top now and it’s nice, hopefully we can go all the way.”

Key stats (via ESPN Stats & Info)

– Coming into Sunday, Arsenal, Manchester City and Lens were the only teams that have won each of their league home games in Europe’s Top 5 leagues.

– Arsenal were looking to start the Premier League season with 6 home wins for the first time since 2017-18, when they won the first 7 home games of the season.

– Martinelli scored his 5th goal of the season in his 12th game… he scored 6 goals in 29 appearances last season.

– Arsenal have allowed just 3 first half goals this season… only Newcastle, PSG, Rennes, Atalanta, and Lazio have allowed fewer in Europe’s Top 5 leagues this season (2 each.)

– Nelson scored his first Premier League goal since July 15, 2020 (vs. Liverpool.) And then got another shortly after.

– Nelson scored his 2nd career club-level brace and first since October 2018 with Hoffenheim (on loan) in Bundesliga.

– Forest have scored just one goal in their 7 away games so far, conceding 19.

– Gabriel Jesus may not have scored today, but he has assisted 13 goals in the Premier League since the start of last season, the third-most of any player after Kevin De Bruyne (17) and Mohamed Salah (16).

Up next

Arsenal: The Gunners head to Chelsea next weekend at 7 a.m. ET. They host Brighton in the EFL Cup in midweek, then their final game before the World Cup is against 19th-placed Wolves on Nov. 12 at 2.45 p.m. ET.

Nottingham Forest: After a couple of tough away trips, Forest are at home for their next three games. They face Brentford and Crystal Palace next in the Premier League and host Tottenham in the EFL Cup in between.

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