Arsenal's Premier League triumph depends on their strikers.

Arsenal’s Premier League triumph depends on their strikers.

Arsenal’s 2-1 victory against Nottingham Forest on Tuesday highlighted the razor-thin margins on which the Premier League championship battle will be won and lost. The Gunners are very poised to complete the January transfer season without the forward addition many hoped for at the start, a decision influenced primarily by financial restraints but also a sense that Arsenal’s current alternatives can bring them over the line.

Arsenal pursued cheaper alternatives a year ago when their top targets were priced out, but this time, with Brentford’s Ivan Toney and Wolves’ Pedro Neto deemed out of reach, manager Mikel Arteta has chosen to entrust his forwards with the task of overhauling Liverpool and Manchester City at the top of the table.

Another factor influencing that choice is the possibility of an imperfect addition disrupting the current coherence. Arsenal’s offensive tactics are well defined, and for extended stretches here, they probed with a familiar approach, monopolising possession to the point that they had 81% possession in the first half. However, that domination did not convert into a single attempt on target, with the most threatening moment coming two minutes before the break, when Murillo fortuitously diverted Bukayo Saka’s close-range effort beyond of goalkeeper Matt Turner’s right-hand post.

After hammering Crystal Palace 5-0 last time out, they were on the verge of resuming a dangerous trend that has resulted in one victory in seven games before Christmas, prompting demands to strengthen the team. But Arteta’s belief in his team and his manner were finally rewarded.

Gabriel Jesus took advantage of Forest’s little loss of focus, spinning in behind from Oleksandr Zinchenko’s 65th-minute throw-in and finishing beyond Turner from close range. Seven minutes later, Gonzalo Montiel gave Arsenal the ball, and they burst quickly, with Saka collecting Jesus’ brilliant pass to fire in a second. The fact that both goals came from a throw-in and a counter-attack, rather than the perfectly prepared path they had sought all evening, demonstrates the agility they will need in the coming months.

“We had to be patient, we didn’t allow them to run and we were able to generate chances in various ways which is pleasing,” Arteta went on to say. “I think we showed a lot of maturity to control the game the way we had to.”

Even before kickoff, the City Ground brought back memories of where a championship chase might be won or lost. This was the location where Arsenal were mathematically beaten in last season’s clash with City, and their return to the Midlands had players especially excited.

“What happened last year was still in our tummy,” Arteta added. “We wanted to set things right. I felt they were discussing it.Coming inside that dressing room really recalls you. Our minds and bodies are quite sophisticated, and when confronted with a similar scenario, they become very active. They were very involved and were constantly discussing it with one another. I think the squad was quite excellent.

It didn’t stop a late wobble, however, as Taiwo Awoniyi maintained his extraordinary record against Arsenal — three goals in three meetings — with an 89th-minute shot that demonstrated his power and composure in the area. Awoniyi came in as a half-time substitute for Chris Wood, whose lack of speed allowed Arsenal to press so high up the field that Forest were boxed in not just their own half, but almost their own defensive third for lengthy periods of time.

The Nigerian attacker, making his first club appearance since November 12, altered the home team’s offensive balance and almost stole an undeserved point in stoppage time.

Emile Smith Rowe was given his second league start of the season to help Arsenal make the most of the available space, but it was Jesus who should have broken the stalemate, hitting a 57th-minute effort against the post from six yards out when it was simpler to score. Jesus’ link-up play was brilliant, and finishing the night with a goal and an assist was a reward for his tenacity, even if it was impossible to shake the idea that his carelessness might have been punished by a team with more talent and determination than Forest had.

Finally, Arteta feels differently, encouraged by Jesus’ character to fight fluid in his knee and play 78 minutes here. “Gabi started to win the game two days ago,” Arteta stated. “He was having knee problems, and everyone was trying to protect him by telling him not to go outdoors. But he kept repeating [matchday] -2, [matchday] -1, and I want to be there to assist the team win the game. When you have that mindset, nice things will happen. I’m quite delighted with him.

The character Arteta desires expressed itself in another manner, or so he said after the game, when the Spaniard was obliged to engage in a dispute between Zinchenko and Ben White at full time, obviously incensed at the surrender of a goal that threatened three points that had before been secure.

“I love it,” he said. “They are asking more from one another. They are dissatisfied with how they surrendered and are just attempting to address the situation. It became a little heated. But that implies it’s sufficient. Playing the way we did, the outcome had to be better, and the clean sheet had to be present.”

The disagreement was maybe a further acknowledgement of the delicate balance that a championship race can be.

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