Gabriel Martinelli opened his Arsenal account with a double on his first start as Kieran Tierney enjoyed a successful debut in a 5-0 EFL Cup third-round thrashing of Nottingham Forest on Tuesday. Unai Emery completely changed his starting XI from the side that beat Aston Villa 3-2 in the Premier League on Sunday but a youthful Gunners side dominated throughout at Emirates Stadium.
Tierney, playing in his first game since recovering from groin injury following his transfer from Celtic, was rarely tested at left-back as Arsenal’s defence enjoyed a comfortable evening.
Forest, sixth in the Championship, offered little as an attacking force and their defence was breached 31 minutes in when 18-year-old Martinelli headed in his first goal for the club. Rob Holding, making his return after nearly 10 months out with a knee problem, converted from a corner in the 71st minute to put the game beyond any doubt.
Joe Willock and the excellent Reiss Nelson got in on the act before Martinelli doubled his tally with the aid of a deflection in stoppage-time.
The woodwork denied Arsenal an early breakthrough as Nelson’s low free-kick struck the right-hand post, but he was instrumental as the hosts took the lead in style. Nelson lifted a wonderful cross-field ball out to Calum Chambers, whose superb volleyed cross was headed confidently into the top-right corner by Martinelli.
Emile Smith Rowe was denied when his close-range header was parried by Forest goalkeeper Aro Muric, with the winger then taken off on a stretcher after colliding with Jack Robinson as he met Tierney’s cross. Willock wasted a gilt-edged chance to double the lead with a woeful header from point-blank range but Holding made no mistake when poor marking allowed him to emphatically dispatch a Nelson corner.
Tierney was replaced in the 77th minute by Hector Bellerin, who 58 seconds later marked his first appearance since sustaining a knee injury in January with an assist, teeing up Willock to atone for his earlier miss with a simple finish after more sloppy set-piece defending from Forest.
The overlapping Chambers set up Nelson for a deserved fourth, Muric unable to keep out the shot despite getting both hands to it. There was nothing he could do, however, when a 25-yard effort from Martinelli took a heavy deflection off Chema Rodriguez and flew into the top-right corner to round off the rout.
By the end, they had both eyes on Friday night as they were comfortably dismantled by the Gunners. But Arsenal, captained by Mesut Ozil after his ‘rest’, deserve the lions share of credit for that. Forest didn’t show up, but Arsenal didn’t let them get their foot in the door.
The Gunners could have been home and hosed by the break but had to settle for a 1-0 advantage – Martinelli bravely heading home Calum Chambers’ excellent first-time cross in the 31st minute. Forest was barely laying a glove on the Premier League side, not that it appeared to bother the traveling contingent who were intent on making their voices heard.
Despite their lead, the closing stages ended in worrying circumstances for Emery’s men after Emile Smith Rowe was stretched off with a nasty head injury, though Emery insisted his substitution was precautionary.
The second half opening mirrored the first; Arsenal dominating as Forest clung on for dear life. Bukayo Saka, on for Smith Rowe, and Willock missed good chances before redemption arrived for Holding, who headed home Reiss Nelson’s corner to end lingering anxieties.