Talking Tactics

How stubborn Forest defence can frustrate Arsenal

By Adrian Clarke 27 Oct 2022

Adrian Clarke on the Reds' improvement and how they can replicate their victory over Liverpool

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Adrian Clarke looks at key tactical points and players who can be decisive in Matchweek 14.

Nottingham Forest

Leaders Arsenal will be favourites to win at home against bottom-of-the-table Forest this Sunday, but breaking down this increasingly stubborn side may not prove easy.

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Steve Cooper’s team beat Liverpool 1-0 last time out with a magnificent, hard-working performance.

They are showing signs of gelling as a group, conceding just twice across their last four Premier League matches.

Meanwhile, Arsenal have looked a little fatigued in second halves of recent outings, so this contest could be tighter than many expect.

Forest defence comparison 2022/23
Stats per 90 MW1-9 MW10-13
Shots faced 17.0 13.8
Expected goals against (xGA) 1.8 1.3
Goals conceded 2.6 0.5

Forest’s improvement owes plenty to the form of defenders Scott McKenna and Steve Cook, along with midfielder Ryan Yates.

All three were key men during an unforgettable promotion campaign and in a new 4-3-3 formation their reliable and diligent off-the-ball work is integral to the team's prospects of success.

The trio were outstanding against Liverpool, making a combined 24 clearances. McKenna led the way with 10 of his own. Across the season, they are Forest’s top three player for clearances, headed clearances and blocks.

The contributions from right-back Serge Aurier and left-back Neco Williams have also been crucial.

Both full-backs are attack-minded by nature, but they have been in terrific form defensively of late. Aurier won six of the seven tackles he attempted against Liverpool.

Assertive in the air

In the last four matches, Forest have only conceded goals from a Ruben Neves penalty and a spectacular long-range strike by Ashley Young in a 1-1 draw with Aston Villa.

Defensively, they have made very few mistakes and none have been costly.

Working hard, Cooper’s side have kept a solid 4-3-3 shape, which sometimes turns into a 5-4-1, depending on the situation.

Forest try to be assertive inside the middle third, but at times they will sit back and defend deep.

This is likely to be a ploy at Emirates Stadium. By staying compact, the visitors can encourage Arsenal to throw hopeful crosses into the area.

Forest crosses faced last four matches
  Crosses Open-play crosses
v AVL 20 16
v WOL 22 16
v BHA 27 18
v LIV 30 15

In such situations, McKenna and Cook are brilliant at winning their aerial duels. They are ably supported by Yates, who regularly drops back in to act as a supplementary central defender.

Together, Forest's backline have successfully repelled 99 crosses in their last 360 minutes of action.

Set-piece issues

Forest will rightly feel proud of their shock success against Liverpool, but they struggled to contain their opponents from set-piece situations.

As the table below shows, four of Liverpool’s biggest five chances stemmed from dead-balls.

Liverpool's best chances v Forest
Player Chance type xG*
Fabio Carvalho Open play 0.38
Roberto Firmino Corner 0.22
Virgil van Dijk Corner 0.17
Mohamed Salah Wide free-kick 0.13
Roberto Firmino Corner 0.12

*Expected Goals tally: the likelihood of a goal being scored, out of one

Forest’s marking set-up was fragile, with several Reds players missing gilt-edged opportunities despite being free inside the area.

Only AFC Bournemouth have conceded more set-piece goals than Forest's six, while Arsenal have scored five goals from corners and free-kicks already this term.

If Forest can stray strong in such situations, they have a chance of taking another big scalp this weekend.

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