Arsenal thrash Nottingham Forest to go top but Bukayo Saka limps off injured

Arsenal reclaimed top spot in the Premier League after sweeping aside Nottingham Forest with Reiss Nelson the unlikely support act in the rout. Nelson proved a more than handy replacement for the injured Bukayo Saka with the winger, who spent last season on loan at Feyenoord, scoring two goals in three minutes at the start of the second half to propel Arsenal to their biggest win of the season.

Despite lasting only 27 minutes, Saka still created the opening goal with Gabriel Martinelli heading home to cast aside any notion of travel fatigue from Mikel Arteta’s pacesetters. Nelson took full advantage of his rare opportunity with a quickfire double before Thomas Partey electrified the Emirates with a thumping fourth. Martin Ødegaard added the fifth goal for the rampant hosts to complete a ghastly afternoon for Forest. In truth Steve Cooper’s spooked team never threatened Arsenal and the chasm was predictably wide between the league’s top- and bottom-placed clubs.

Arteta reverted to the team which started in the draw at Southampton last weekend following a midweek Europa League defeat by PSV Eindhoven. Forest’s only change from the side which stunned Liverpool last week was Renan Lodi promoted to the defence in place of Neco Williams.

The suggestion that Arsenal’s heavy workload of Thursday night football was starting to take its toll was swiftly dispelled by their sharp start. It was an impressive response to their poor showing in the Netherlands and this one-sided romp enhanced their hopes of taking the Christmas No 1 spot. Trips to Chelsea and Wolves before the World Cup break will test Arsenal’s resolve but Manchester City are being kept honest by a team that have won 10 of their opening 12 league matches.

Arsenal opened the scoring from their first attack of the game with Forest’s gameplan going out of the window within five minutes. Saka curled in a deft cross from the right and Martinelli planted his header past Dean Henderson. Martinelli raced away to the corner flag and held up a shirt with Pablo Marí’s name on it in a heartfelt tribute to the Arsenal defender, after his stabbing during a knife attack in a Milan supermarket on Thursday night.

Forest were braced for a long afternoon and Gabriel Jesus curled a shot narrowly past the far post. Cooper knew chances were likely to be scarce and Remo Freuler’s long-range shot was fired straight into the arms of Aaron Ramsdale.

Saka appeared to be struggling with a knock, having fallen awkwardly under a challenge by Lodi, but the England attacker carried on after treatment.

Martinelli was denied a second goal after Granit Xhaka teed him up, with the Brazilian’s low shot blocked on the line by Lodi. Saka blasted the rebound over the bar but the winger still looked aggravated by his injury. It was not long before he went down again and Nelson replaced him midway through the half.

Forest’s struggle to make any attacking inroads was summed up by Jesse Lingard’s wild strike which careered hopelessly away from the target. Ødegaard set up Jesus for another attempt but his fierce strike rose harmlessly over Henderson’s crossbar.

Arsenal ran into trouble of their own making before the break, via Gabriel Magalhães’s wayward pass straight into the path of Lingard, but his shot was charged down. Xhaka required treatment after a late challenge from Morgan Gibbs-White which resulted in a booking for the Forest attacker but the Switzerland midfielder was able to play on.

The home side made an explosive start to the second half with Xhaka releasing Jesus who played in Nelson. His first attempt was parried by Henderson but the rebound fell perfectly for him to tuck the ball home.

Nelson’s remarkable impact off the bench, in his first Premier League appearance since the opening day of last season, was rubber-stamped within a couple of minutes, the 22-year-old volleying home his second goal from close range after Jesus’s low delivery.

Arsenal were in complete control and Forest had no answer to the wave of attacks. Partey was next in on the act, firing a stunning strike from the edge of the area past the flailing arms of Henderson after the excellent Nelson turned provider.

It should have been 5-0 shortly afterwards but Jesus missed the target after bearing down on goal. Jesus, who was a constant threat, was handed another opportunity to score but Henderson sprinted off his line to block the effort.

Arsenal did not have to wait long for a fifth goal, though, with Jesus teeing up Ødegaard and the captain rifling a shot into the roof of the net.

There have been some horror shows already this season from Forest – conceding six goals at Manchester City and losing 4-0 at struggling Leicester – with this another to add to the list. Their recent defensive improvements disintegrated in the face of Arsenal’s swaggering display.

This was target practice for the Gunners and Ben White’s header from a corner almost enabled Jesus to score the goal his all-round play merited; but the striker was unable to get a touch on the ball at the far post. His wait for a first goal since the start of October against Tottenham goes on

For Forest it was a chastening experience and Arsenal will have few easier afternoons as they extended their unblemished record at the Emirates this season.