Starting XI: Ospina, Debuchy, Mertesacker, Holding, Nelson, Willock, Elneny, Maitland-Niles, Iwobi, Walcott, Welbeck
Subs: Macey, Chambers, Osei-Tutu, DaSilva, Jeff, Akpom, Nketiah
Arsenal have crashed out of the FA Cup at the third round stage for the first time of Arsene Wenger’s tenure as Nottingham Forest won 4-2 at the City Ground. A weakened Gunners side were awful on the day and even though the home side secured victory courtesy of two second half penalties it was hard to deny that they deserved their win.
Per Mertesacker cancelled out Eric Lichaj’s opener only for the American to restore City’s advantage before the break. That lead was extended by Ben Brereton’s spot-kick on 64 minutes before Welbeck gave the Gunners a glimmer of a replay. Those hopes were extinguished in the final minute as Dowell converted again from 12-yards.
From the outset it became apparent that Nottingham Forest’s strategy would be to try and get the ball behind Per Mertesacker as often as possible.
The German, with Debuchy to his right and Holding partnering him in the middle of a four man defence, looked ill at ease against the pace of Ben Brereton, an 18-year-old England youth international. Within five minutes the striker stole onto a loose ball by Elneny, meant for Mertesacker, and shot at Ospina.
Arsenal should have taken confidence from the fact that Forest have the fourth worst defence in the Championship but they struggled to click in the final third. When Walcott made it through on goal on 6 minutes he could only scuff his effort. When Welbeck headed a Walcott cross, it went well wide.
The home side continued to grow into the game and the Gunners were thankful to Ospina for a brilliant save to deny Matty Cash at full stretch down to his right on 17 minutes.
Two minutes later the home side took the lead. A free-kick, won near the by-line just outside the left side of Arsenal’s box, was smashed to the near post by Dowell and Eric Lichaj, on top of Ospina, crashed the ball home with his head from on the line. Questions have to be asked of the Gunners defending. The wall kept Lichaj on side and the keeper was beaten at his near post. (1-0)
The response from the Gunners was immediate. Nelson won a free-kick, Walcott whipped it into the box, Holding headed onto the post and Mertesacker pounced on the rebound to slot home. We didn’t really deserve it. (1-1)
Mertesacker equalises for Arsenal. 1-1 pic.twitter.com/JXanch5k36
— Terje (@xArsenalTerje) January 7, 2018
Arsenal toiled in midfield and while Nelson and Maitland-Niles showed flashes of their burgeoning talent, the performances of Welbeck, Walcott and Iwobi were way below par. The latter had a couple of attempts but his finishing, not for the first time, was wayward.
At the other end, the home side continued to push forward with pace and twice more the Gunners had to rely on Ospina to dig them out. First, he dived to his right to deny Brereton who’d skipped inside Mertesacker. Not long after he denied the youngster again after he’d latched onto a simple ball over the top. The BFG was really struggling.
With momentum on their side, the home side snatched the lead just before the break and again it was Lichaj who did the damage. Walcott initially did well to clear a cross to the back post but when the ball fell to Holding he headed it to the edge of the box where the American defender controlled with his chest and volleyed into the top corner. Ospina didn’t move. (2-1)
Arsene Wenger, watching from the stands due to a touchline ban, was quick to make his way to the dressing room. Second half
Arsenal were brighter after the restart, but still infuriating to watch. On the right, Debuchy looked to get the ball into the box as quickly as possible. On the left, we were more intricate, with Nelson and Maitland-Niles trying to pass their way through the Forest defence. Neither tactic managed to get the ball to the strikers.
At the other end, Brereton met Walker’s cross at the near post but Holding did just enough to deflect the ball for a corner. The reprieve was temporary.
Brereton finally got his goal after Arsenal conceded a penalty for the third consecutive game. There was no controversy this time. Holding’s clumsy challenge on Cash was definitely a foul. The young striker sent Ospina the wrong way to make it 3-1.
Wenger’s response was to remove Willock and put on Nketiah. The gallows humour of the travelling fans had them singing, “We’re fucking shit.” It was hard to deny the sentiment given the performance.
Nketiah did force a save from Smith in the Forest goal, but the fact it was our first attempt on target aside from the goal said much.
With 12 minutes left, Arsenal got a lifeline. Iwobi’s through ball looked to have been claimed by Smith but under pressure from Welbeck he spilt the ball and the England international slotted home. (3-2)
Welbeck capitalises on a huge error by the Forest GK. 3-2 pic.twitter.com/NLuC56E0ed
— Terje (@xArsenalTerje) January 7, 2018
Could we find an equaliser? Welbeck threw himself at a Maitland-Niles cross as the Gunners chased an unlikely equaliser. He claimed a penalty having gone toe-to-toe with Mancienne. It was waved away.
Just to rub salt in the wounds, Jon Moss decided that the home side should have another penalty of their own. Debuchy, chasing Armand Traore, tackled the former Gunner from behind as he raced into the box. He seemed to get the ball. The Penalty was given anyway. Kieran Dowell stepped up, slipped and the ball flew into the top of the net. Did he kick the ball twice? If he did, the goal should have been ruled out. Moss conferred with the linesman It was given. (4-2)
Arsenal were incensed. Mertesacker and Ospina went in the book, as did Debuchy for the challenge. With tempers rising, the home side then went down to ten men as Joe Worrall picked up two yellow cards in the space of 45 seconds. Amazingly, only four minutes of injury time was shown. We were done for.
Chuba Akpom had a glorious chance to make it 4-3 but one-on-one with the keeper his effort was tipped just wide. It pretty much summed up an awful day for the Gunners. There will be no trip to Wembley in May.