My guys from Arsenal had the shock of their lives a 4-2 loss to Championship club Nottingham Forrest in the third round of the FA Cup.
The Guardians Daniel Taylor wrote:” To put this result into perspective, Arsène Wenger had never previously lost an FA Cup third-round tie in his 21 years as the longest-serving manager in the country. He has won this trophy seven times, which is the same as Chelsea and Liverpool have managed throughout their entire histories, and plainly felt the gap between the Premier League and the Championship was big enough to put out a substantially weakened side.
Nottingham Forest, with their songs about the European Cups and stands named after Brian Clough and Peter Taylor, will not appreciate it being called a giantkilling – but it still counts as a significant shock and a jarring experience for Wenger.
Along the way, there was a reminder why the City Ground, with the floodlights reflecting on the River Trent, remains one of the great places to watch football. They have not had much to celebrate here in the 19 years since they dropped out of the Premier League but there were oles here after Ben Brereton’s penalty had made it 3-1 and more jubilant scenes when Kieran Dowell, from another spot kick, soothed the crowd’s nerves, just as it had seemed as through a goalkeeping mistake might set up Arsenal for a late feat of escapology.
Dowell’s penalty was laced with controversy, with Arsenal’s players furiously protesting that he had slipped at the vital moment and inadvertently struck the ball twice. Arsenal also had a legitimate argument that Mathieu Debuchy had won the ball to stop Armand Traoré but it would be a cop out for Wenger to lay the blame for this defeat on the officials. The only disappointment for Forest came in the form of Joe Worrall’s late red card for his second bookable offence but, that apart, it was a reminder of better times on Trentside and Eric Lichaj’s second goal in particular was a beauty. They show a pre-match film here these days to relive the club’s best times, drawing heavily on the European Cup days under Clough, and Lichaj’s volley was mighty enough to be worthy of inclusion.
For Arsenal, the indignities were considerable on a day when Wenger had to watch from the directors’ enclosure because of the three-match touchline ban he has received from the Football Association. This could conceivably have been Theo Walcott’s final match in Arsenal’s colours and, if so, it was a wretched way to go out. Forest do not even have a permanent manager in place after Mark Warburton’s sacking, the glory here going to their academy director Gary Brazil, and there will also have to be questions about Wenger’s decision to gamble with such a youthful and experimental side.
Perhaps Wenger was emboldened by the fact that when these sides met in the EFL Cup last season he did the same and watched his team canter to a 4-0 win. That, however, was against a team that ended up avoiding relegation to League One only by goal difference on the final day of last season. It was the last game Fawaz al-Hasawi attended as Forest’s owner and a club, in the words of the new chairman Nicholas Randall, that was in “intensive care”.
Forest evidently still have a few problems bearing in mind Warburton was dismissed after back-to-back losses against Sheffield Wednesday, then managerless, and relegation-threatened Sunderland left them with more defeats than any other club in the Championship bar Birmingham City in bottom place. Yet it quickly became apparent here that the club that last won this competition in 1959 had no intentions of hoisting a white flag for a second time.
Brereton, in particular, made it clear why, at the age of 18, he is so highly regarded by his club, having been restored to a central striking role rather than playing out of position on the wing, as he was under Warburton. Brereton was a difficult opponent for Per Mertesacker, a player 15 years his senior, while Dowell, on loan from Everton, also showed in flashes why he is one to keep an eye on for the future. Dowell has a left foot that will rekindle memories of Kevin Sheedy for Evertonians of a certain generation and it was his free-kick that led to Lichaj heading in the opening goal after 20 minutes. Lichaj showed great determination to get there first in a congested penalty area. Dowell whipped the ball in with a mix of power and precision, making it a nightmarish one to defend, and Lichaj took advantage of the inaction of the players around him in Arsenal shirts.
When Mertesacker levelled three minutes later it would not have been a surprise at that point to see Arsenal take charge. Forest’s defence has been their weakness all season and Mertesacker lashed in the loose ball after Rob Holding had headed a free-kick from Theo Walcott against the post.
Unfortunately for Arsenal, this was a day when their own defensive shortcomings were exposed. Lichaj’s second goal was spectacular but it also came from a weak attempt to clear the ball by Holding and Wenger might also think Alex Iwobi and Mohamed Elneny, the two closest players to Forest’s scorer, ought to have closed him down more quickly. Instead, Lichaj had time to chest the ball down, let fly with his right foot and fire in a screamer.
Brereton’s penalty came about after Holding had impeded Matty Cash, another of Forest’s vibrant performers, and Forest were looking comfortable with their 3-1 lead until that moment in the 79th minute when their goalkeeper, Jordan Smith, allowed the ball to slip out of his grasp and Welbeck slid in Arsenal’s second goal. A comeback would have flattered the holders and Dowell’s penalty left Wenger to reflect on the shortest FA Cup campaign of his two decades in English football.”