Total control, an absence of alarms in any form, and enough positives to suggest more nights of this clarity might lie ahead. This was such a dominant, sleek victory that it must have felt as if it was happening to another football club but Arsenal are entitled to ascribe it some longer-term significance. On another occasion the return of Héctor Bellerín, who was roared on to the pitch as a substitute and promptly set up their third goal with his first contribution after nine months out, might have been the obvious good news story but this time it was difficult to know where to start.
Provisions must be made for the fact Nottingham Forest, distracted by a Championship promotion campaign that resumes on Friday, were present in little more than name. But there were visions of Arsenal as they might yet be. They have missed the composure of Rob Holding, sidelined for a similar period to Bellerín, but saw him rise confidently on his first appearance since December for the header that doubled their lead.
A fit Kieran Tierney might well have illuminated the season’s early weeks and now, on his debut, he could be seen tearing up the left flank and delivering a stream of smart crosses. Gabriel Martinelli, who scored their first and last goals, looks an outstanding prospect at centre-forward while Joe Willock suggested further what we already know: that there are few 20-year-old midfielders with comparable potential in English football.
“It was a good result and we can be positive that we have different options for different matches,” Unai Emery said. Martinelli, who is 18, looks a serious one. Arsenal’s young recruits from South America have often disappeared after being subjected to obscure loan spells but there is something different about the Brazilian, who careered on to an excellent volleyed cross from Calum Chambers to thud in the opener and then curled a deflected fifth at the end.
“He deserves it,” Emery said. “He has worked and trained with big spirit and a big performance.” Martinelli showed impressive strength and footwork throughout. Willock, who has a happy knack of arriving in threatening areas, stood out too and was the beneficiary of Bellerín’s overlap and centre in the 77th minute. With a moment like that, it was as if the Spain international had never been away; Emery said he had wanted to play the entire 90 minutes but must be patient, with Monday’s game at Manchester United also likely to be too soon for a start.
Not to worry: Chambers, an unexpected success as stand-in right-back against Aston Villa on Sunday, shone again in that position and then switched flanks upon Bellerín’s introduction, subsequently setting up a finish on the stretch from Reiss Nelson for number four. He must have felt far from view during last season’s loan with a desperate Fulham but, at 24, looks ready to contribute if he can nail down a position.
That is a debate for another day. The only semblance of a cloud for Arsenal on this one was the first-half departure of Emile Smith Rowe, who went off on a stretcher as a precaution after taking a blow to the head. Even Mesut Özil’s wheeling-out as captain, which could have been pored over if things had gone differently, generally escaped scrutiny.
“I think the game for us in 90 minutes was very consistent,” Emery concluded and, if that becomes a familiar refrain, expectations of Arsenal may have to be adjusted yet again.