We kicked off the 2023/24 Premier League season with three points as Hale End graduates Eddie Nketiah and Bukayo Saka netted to see off Nottingham Forest.
Nketiah got the campaign off and running on 26 minutes when he netted after an outrageous assist from Gabriel Martinelli, and six minutes later a bullet from Saka doubled our advantage.
However we couldn’t quite kill the game off when Taiwo Awoniyi pulled a goal back eight minutes from time Gooners’ nerves were jangling, but we held on to start the campaign victorious.
Sensational six-minute spell
Having waited 78 days for the return of Premier League action, our supporters had to hold on for 30 minutes more after kick-off was delayed to ensure everyone could enter Emirates Stadium in time, but the delay proved to be worthwhile.
However, things could have been different as Forest had the game’s first big chance, but missed a golden opportunity to take the lead. What looked to merely be a clearing header by Orel Mangala slipped through our backline and the speedy Brennan Johnson latched onto it, but when faced one-on-one with Aaron Ramsdale he shanked his attempt horribly wide.
Having rode our luck and failing to test Matt Turner on his swift Emirates Stadium return following his move on Wednesday, we needed a spark to get our season properly underway and thankfully it arrived on 25 minutes via a moment of Martinelli magic.
The Brazilian initially picked the ball up facing away from goal, but after turning inside he was faced with Danilo and Serge Aurier, but a brilliant 360-degree turn and backheel deceived them both and found Nketiah, who composed himself before drilling the ball, via a deflection, past Turner.
And just six minutes later, we doubled our lead with another piece of individual brilliance. William Saliba picked the pocket of Morgan Gibbs-White on the right and after linking up with Thomas Partey found Saka, who burst towards the edge of the box, shrugged off Mangala and unleashed a rifle of a shot that left Turner grasping thin air as it rippled the back of the net to put us in control of the game going into the break.
After the highs of the opening 45, the second half began with a blow when Premier League debutant Jurrien Timber was forced off with a knee injury just four minutes after the restart, which took the wind out of our sails somewhat as we again struggled to get out of the traps at the start of the half.
Indeed a deflected Ola Aina effort on 70 minutes was the next piece of meaningful action which caused Ramsdale to sprawl across his line to ensure it didn’t creep in, but moments later Declan Rice came so close to marking his top-flight bow in our colours with a goal with a deflected first-time effort from just outside the box that saw Turner do well to push onto his post.
Our record signing had another chance when his shot into the turf was tipped over by his former teammate, but from the resulting corner, Forest managed to set up a grandstand finish.
After his defenders cleared our flag kick, Anthony Elanga charged down the flank for 60 yards and put the ball across the face of goal for his fellow substitute Awoniyi to finish off the counter-attack and score against us for the second consecutive game.
Gibbs-White then flashed an ambitious attempt from range over the bar as the visitors pressed for an equaliser, but we managed to see out the seven additional minutes to get the season off with the win we craved.
Facts and stats
We have won our opening game in four of the last five Premier League seasons (L1), having won just two of our previous nine season openers in the league before this (D3 L4).
Forest have lost their opening match in each of their last five league seasons; this is the longest ongoing MD1 losing run of any side currently competing in England’s top four tiers.
Eddie Nketiah, who has scored 14 goals in his last 16 starts at the Emirates Stadium in all competitions, was the first English player to score our first Premier League goal of a season since Theo Walcott in 2016/17.
This was the first time Gabriel was not named in a Premier League starting XI for us since August 2021, ending the Brazilian's run of 73 consecutive league starts for the Gunners. Only Paul Merson (82 from February 1995 to February 1997) has ever had a longer run of consecutive Premier League starts for us.
Taiwo Awoniyi became only the second Nottingham Forest player to score in five consecutive Premier League appearances, after Stan Collymore (6 in March/April 1995).
Our first away game of the campaign comes at Selhurst Park when we take on Crystal Palace on Monday, August 21 before we return to Emirates Stadium for a second London derby of the week as we host Fulham the following Saturday.
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