When ball number two was paired up with number nineteen, the EFL/League Cup suddenly became very interesting again.
Those numbers had fatefully brought together two old adversaries in the shape of Nottingham Forest and Arsenal. Amazingly the two clubs hadn’t faced each other for a staggering seventeen years; immediately, cringe worthy images of Big Ron Atkinson sprung to mind. For that was the day he lead Forest at the City Ground for the First time, given that he somehow managed to sit in the wrong dugout, I’d wished it was also his last. Especially considering what was to unfold when Manchester United’s treble winning side rolled into town shortly after!
Having been at Wembley for both, the 1989 and 90 final victories in this competition, it’s always been a tournament close to my heart. The club itself has a rich history regarding the three handled trophy; winning it four times and as runners up twice, all under the guidance of the legendary Brian Clough. It’s a fitting testament that the tie between Forest and the Gunners took place on the twelfth anniversary of his passing.
As soon as the euphoria surrounding this tie settled, I began guessing as to what ridiculous prices and tariffs would be set for a potential sell out. To my utter amazement, the fixed price of £20 was an absolute masterstroke. Take into account that we are barely out of an embargo and that people would probably pay over the odds for this game anyway. Maybe our chairman is learning after all?
I used the word masterstroke because it virtually guaranteed a sell out, also enticing back a few disgruntled fans in the process. This created a debate of its own on social media though; the “real fans” debate. Many hard core, season ticket holders took issue with the fact that people were only coming back because it was Arsenal. Maybe so, but the fact of the matter is that they were there to support Forest. Given the intelligent pricing and the wonderful atmosphere it created, surely this will give the prodigal sons and daughters the impetus to return. I myself have been dragged into such debates before, mainly with people from so called fans forums though, keyboard warriors at best. That is a different issue altogether, certain online members would verbally abuse other fans whilst acting as the voice of forest. Those people are the only ones I have an issue with regarding constant attendance, it should replicate their continual, pointless updates on social media.
Needless to say, the people in question are rarely seen down by the Trent.
As I strolled to the City Ground on match day there was a real buzz and a wave of excitement, the city had come alive and was awash with red and white. An atmosphere we had not sampled for a very long time and who knows how long again before the next time?
I wasn’t surprised to see a change of formation again, or a mass shuffle of playing staff into alternative positions. Philippe Montanier adopted a 4-1-4-1 system with Nicklas Bendtner as the lone striker, making his full debut of course. Forest started brightly, as they had done on Saturday, against Norwich City. Pajtim Kasami missed a great chance after just eight minutes but the home side continued to press. Despite being deployed at right back, Hildeberto Pereira was electric and produced some stunning runs, deep into the Arsenal half. Bendtner came close to a scripted first goal against his former employers, curling a long range shot just past the post. Despite the cohesion by Forest, it was the gunners who took the lead just minutes later. Typically, their first effort on target was a goal; Granit Xhaka’s thirty yard bullet was cruelly deflected past Stojkovic. This was to be the be the telling difference between the two sides going into the break.
The second forty five was a case of de-ja-vu; the away side completely dominated and took complete control. The telling moment was the penalty that Arsenal scored to double their lead; Kasami failed to play in Lansbury at the other end, just seconds before the gunners broke. Had he done so, we may have levelled the game but that’s the difference between the Premier League and the Championship. Miss your chances and you will be punished immediately.
Arsenal went on to score twice more but the home crowd were fantastic and never stopped singing, proof that the full house effect works well, regardless of the outcome. As I said from the outset, maybe a few of the fans might be enticed into a return to the City Ground again soon. It’s not cheap to support your club these days and families have tighter budgets than ever, but if Nottingham Forest can learn from this, the glory days could soon return!