Attention turns away from league action for Nottingham Forest on Tuesday evening as they make the long trip to the Emirates Stadium to take on Arsenal in the Carabao Cup, Third Round, looking to upset the odds and extend their current unbeaten run to ten games in all competitions.
For Forest, the game will act as a taster for what they hope will soon be something more frequent. Trips to England’s elite sides will no longer be confined to fortuitous cup draws if the Reds can end their 20-year exile from the Premier League. It’s the Emirates on Tuesday but Forest fans are constantly dreaming of regular trips to Anfield, Old Trafford and the Etihad as well.
Arsenal are the club they are today thanks to the work of their iconic former manager Arsene Wenger. The Frenchman arrived in 1996 and revolutionised the club. Wenger had to earn his reputation, however, and it was a case of ‘Arsene Who?’ when he first arrived in North London as an unknown quantity who had last managed in Japan.
Another Frenchman who had to face similar questions on his arrival in England is Forest’s head coach Sabri Lamouchi. Only 18 minutes separated his announcement on Trentside and the news that Martin O’Neill had been relieved of his duties. It was a whirlwind afternoon in late June with Reds fans having to acclimatise to their 13th full-time manager since June, 2011.
Lamouchi arrived at the City Ground on the back of a fairly modest managerial career. A decent spell with the Ivory Coast saw them qualify for the 2014 World Cup, while he enjoyed a mixed period with Rennes, guiding them to fifth place before being sacked the following year after a poor run.
Passions, as always, were running high and there were some concerns Lamouchi would end up like his compatriot Phillipe Montanier, who endured a poor spell in charge of Forest between 2016 and 2017.
Those who doubted Lamouchi’s appointment certainly aren’t doing so now and Forest can move to the summit of the Championship table on Friday night with a victory away at Stoke City. With some of the other early pacesetters facing each other on Saturday, there’s a good opportunity for the Reds to assert themselves as genuine promotion contenders.
Forest’s climb up the table comes after a rich vein of form, bouncing back from their opening-day loss to West Brom and not suffering defeat since. That run has included impressive results on the road against Leeds, Charlton and Swansea, as well as effective displays at home, the last of which came on Saturday when they defeated a hard-working Barnsley side by a single goal to nil.
Lamouchi’s men were hardly at their best on Saturday, but they managed to secure the win thanks to Ben Watson’s goal, from their only shot on target, combined with a resolute and dogged defensive display. It has been a common theme for Forest this season. Since that West Brom game, they’ve not been firing on all cylinders on several occasions but have managed to get points on the board, scoring late goals more than once.
It is a good trait to have and the Reds certainly look hard to beat. Michael Dawson and Joe Worrall have formed a formidable pairing at the centre of defence, in front of the impressive Brice Samba. Further forward, Watson and the likes of Samba Sow have added physicality and defensive sturdiness in midfield. Combine that with the attacking talents of players like Joe Lolley, Lewis Grabban and Joao Carvalho and Forest are giving their fans plenty of reasons to be optimistic.
Optimism is a funny thing as a football fan. Hope and belief are what help to make a football season exciting, yet it can ultimately lead to crushing disappointment. When the season starts, fans love to dream that this will be their year. Only a select few clubs can experience success and for the rest, they see their optimism drain away over the months.
Forest know that feeling far too well. Optimism was extremely high at the start of last season with the popular Aitor Karanka at the helm. The club had just spent big in the summer transfer window, bringing in proven quality like Grabban, as well as smashing their transfer record for Portuguese playmaker Carvalho.
The Reds’ form stuttered as Karanka’s relationship with the board deteriorated, and he resigned in the January, replaced by club legend O’Neill. That proved to be a poor decision as Forest fell away before he was ultimately sacked in the summer amid reports he had lost the dressing room.
The club celebrated the life of legendary manager Brian Clough on Saturday on the 15th anniversary of his death. He knew a thing or two about being a success with the club and the Reds’ faithful will be hoping for no more false dawns as they look to take top spot in the Championship for the first time since 2014.