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Arsenal’s FA Cup gamble backfires as they are knocked out at Nottingham Forest

Gunners suffer first third round defeat in 21 years

07 January, 2018 — By Richard Osley

FA Cup
NOTTINGHAM FOREST 4 (Lichaj 20, 44, Brereton pen 64, Dowell pen 85)
ARSENAL 2 (Mertesacker 23, Welbeck 79)

ARSENE Wenger had questions to answer this evening (Sunday) as his gamble on a weakened team selection and Arsenal were bundled out of the FA Cup by Championship side Nottingham Forest.

The knockout tournament has proved a lifeline for the beleaguered Gunners boss after three Wembley successes in four years. But he was made to pay for chancing his arm at the City Ground with four goals flying into the back of the Arsenal net. Alexis Sanchez, Jack Wilshere, Mesut Ozil and Alexandre Lacazette were not even waiting on the substitutes bench as a collection of reserves and misfiring experienced players, most starkly Mohamed Elneny and Theo Walcott, struggled to make an impact.

This was a match that was clearly winnable with a full strength team and now leaves Wenger with only the Carabao Cup, unloved by the supporters, and the Europa League, another second rate tournament, to play for. A treacherous battle to finish in the top four in the Premier League also awaits.

Arsenal had initially responded well to falling behind midway through the first half as Per Mertesacker pushed a rebound into the net to level Eric Lichaj’s header. But despite large amounts of possession – and here comes a familiar story – Arsenal did not leave Forest keeper Jordan Smith with too much to worry about and at the back, while Mertesacker had been helpful in providing an equaliser, his uneasy central defence partnership with Rob Holding always looked a risk. Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who can play a sensible pass, does not look tough enough to play at left-back, meanwhile.

Maitland-Niles was turned in the final minute of the first half and then Holding’s poor headed clearance in the final minute of the first half fell to Lichaj, whose responded with a dipping half volley which arrowed into the back of the net. Arsenal laboured in the second half too, despite the larger share of the ball and it was always an uphill task once Holding had conceded a penalty and Ben Brereton converted from the spot with 25 minutes left.

Danny Welbeck gave Wenger, watching from the stands due to a touchline ban, some hope when he rolled in a second Arsenal goal after Forest keeper Smith had misjudged the collection of a through ball but back at the other end Forest won another penalty to seal the victory with five minutes left. Mathieu Debuchy may have got a touch of the ball as he clattered into Armand Traore, the ex-Arsenal player, but it was always a risk lunging in from behind.

Kieron Dowell may well have had two touches of the ball as he slipped while scoring the penalty. It probably should have been disallowed but the raging complaints of the Arsenal players – two got yellows for arguing – just showed how desperate it had all become for Wenger’s team.

In the dying moments, Forest defender Joe Worroll was sent off for a crashing foul, but Arsenal were already beaten.

NOTTINGHAM FOREST: Smith, Lichaj, Traore, Mancienne, Worrall, Vaughan, Osborn, Dowell (Mills 90+3), Cash (McKay 86), Clough (Walker 56), Brereton
Subs not used: Henderson, Bouchalakis, Cummings, Vellios

ARSENAL: Ospina, Debuchy (Akpom 87), Maitland-Niles, Mertesacker, Holding, Elneny, Willock (Nketiah 65), Iwobi, Walcott, Welbeck
Subs not used: Macey, Chambers, Dasilva, Osei-Tutu, Reine-Adelaide

Attendance: 27,182



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