Arsenal’s scenes of celebration at the final whistle at the City Ground were in the sharpest contrast to their last visit to Nottingham Forest, when defeat brought the curtain down on a season-long Premier League title quest.
It was Forest celebrating back in May when Taiwo Awoniyi’s goal not only assured their survival but completed Arsenal’s misery as a late collapse made Manchester City champions.
Here, on a cold night beside the Trent, Arsenal’s title ambitions were not on the line but defeat was unthinkable, especially with Premier League leaders Liverpool the visitors to Emirates Stadium on Sunday.
And this was why there was an outpouring of elation from manager Mikel Arteta, his players and the travelling fans when the final whistle sounded on a hectic five minutes of stoppage time, after what looked like a routine victory until Awoniyi struck for Forest late on .
It was not a night or performance without its stresses, not because Forest gave Arsenal any serious anxiety until those closing stages, but because for the first 45 minutes the Gunners appeared to be sleepwalking towards the sort of result that could inflict damage on their season.
Arsenal lacked urgency and penetration in a lazy, lacklustre opening half, sucked in by Forest’s strategy of sitting back in blocks of defence waiting to hit them on the counter.
Too many passes, too many stodgy attacks, not enough chances. Arsenal might, with some justification, say they were being calm and measured, showing maturity, but there was no doubt a lot more was needed.
Arsenal stepped up the pace in the second half, getting a helping hand, or in this case foot, when they needed it as former keeper Matt Turner allowed Gabriel Jesus’ finish to bounce between his legs and in at the near post on 65 minutes.
Bukayo Saka got Arsenal’s second, Gonzalo Montiel the Forest culprit on this occasion, proving decisive despite Awoniyi’s goal momentarily threatening the most unlikely of comebacks.
It was a win Arsenal deserved to celebrate because this is just the sort of potentially hazardous fixture that can present itself, and prove problematic, in the course of a title pursuit.
There was a show of passion too, with a heated confrontation between defensive duo Ben White and Oleksandr Zinchenko after the final whistle, the pair having to be separated by Arsenal’s backroom staff.
Arteta expressed his pleasure at the sight, taking it as a public demonstration of exactly what this result, and the club’s tilt at glory, means to his players.
Arsenal keeper David Raya hardly had a save to make against a Forest side who barely laid a glove on their opponents, meaning this is a victory that can now be viewed in the wider context.
It meant Arsenal closed the gap on leaders Liverpool to two points before Jurgen Klopp’s side face Chelsea at Anfield on Wednesday, putting them in good heart for when the two teams meet on Sunday in north London.
While it is stretching the point to suggest Arsenal have to make the encounter with Liverpool a “must-win” affair, it can certainly be regarded as a “must not lose” from both a footballing and psychological point of view.
Defeat would be desperately damaging but confidence has been repaired by the 5-0 thrashing of Crystal Palace and this victory at Forest.
Arsenal also have a score to settle with Liverpool after losing 2-0 at home in the recent FA Cup third-round tie, when they had so many chances to score before almost inevitably falling victim to two late sucker-punches.
There is still a sense that Arsenal lack a natural cutting edge but there is also plenty to admire and they are right in the Premier League title race.
Jesus is the striker who must assume that responsibility and he delivered here, hitting the bar with a fierce strike before he was the grateful beneficiary of Turner’s blunder.
Arsenal were untroubled elsewhere, Forest’s risk-averse gameplan making it a relatively easy night for their defenders until Awoniyi emerged after being out with injury since October, finally giving them something to think about.
If we are approaching the pressure points well into the second half of the season, then Arsenal can certainly regard themselves as very well placed on the shoulders of the leaders.
And, after winning in the same place where they suffered such a harrowing defeat and experience last season, Arsenal will settle for that before Sunday’s colossal clash with Liverpool.