Arsenal Vs Nottingham Forest: Highlights and analysis – Absolute nightmare

NOTTINGHAM, ENGLAND - JANUARY 07: Eric Lichaj of Nottingham Forest celebrates scoring his side's first goal with team mates during The Emirates FA Cup Third Round match between Nottingham Forest and Arsenal at City Ground on January 7, 2018 in Nottingham, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
NOTTINGHAM, ENGLAND - JANUARY 07: Eric Lichaj of Nottingham Forest celebrates scoring his side's first goal with team mates during The Emirates FA Cup Third Round match between Nottingham Forest and Arsenal at City Ground on January 7, 2018 in Nottingham, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images) /

Arsenal travelled to the City Ground to face Nottingham Forest in the third round of the FA Cup. Here is the full recap, all the highlights, and analysis of the 4-2 loss.

What a shocking performance. What a shocking loss. What a shocking team. The worst thing about Arsenal’s 4-2 loss to Nottingham Forest was that they deserved it. In fact, that’s not even true: they deserved worse. Arsene Wenger ran the risk of fielding an inexperienced team without any senior players on the bench. It backfired. Badly. His Arsenal side were overrun from minute one. They have failed to defend their FA Cup title. This is their first third-round loss under Wenger. This was a very, very bad day.

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The first half started in an even fashion. Forest were clearly revved up for the cup tie. They pressed Arsenal high up the pitch, attempting to expose the pace of Per Mertesacker in the inside-left channel, and flew into a couple of early challenges to rile up an already raucous crowd. And chances came at both ends. Theo Walcott poorly skewed an effort wide after smartly drifting into the right channel, Alex Iwobi had a shot from the edge of the penalty area blocked, and Danny Welbeck saw a flashed header spin past the post.

At the other end, Forest best opening came down the left flank. And indeed, their first goal did, eventually, result from a left-flank foray. Per Mertesacker was isolated against Matt Clough. The Forest midfielder cut inside the German, trying to exploit his immobility and poor agility. But Mertesacker recovered to slide in and block the shot. The ball, however, squirmed into the path of Matthew Cash, whose angled shot was turned around the far post by David Ospina. From the resultant corner, a neat move involving a backheel return to the taker, caught out Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who hauled back Kieran McDowell to concede the freekick.

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The resulting freekick was whipped in, left-footed, fired straight at David Ospina. But a clever, near-post run from Eric Lichaj, who used the two players in the wall to ensure that he remained onside, allowed the American to power a header past the Colombian shot-stopper before he could ever move. 1-0 down. Away from home. A young team. This could quickly unravel for Arsenal.

Thankfully, it didn’t. At least not straight away. That was because of the perfectly-timed quick response. Some neat footwork from Reiss Nelson wide on the left drew the challenge from David Vaughan. Nelson, seeing his opportunity, dived, feigning contact. He won the freekick. Theo Walcott curled it into the penalty area, Rob Holding headed his effort against the post, and, after a little nudge to control the ball, Per Mertesacker poked into the gaping net.

As the half progressed, it was clear what Forest’s intentions were: isolate either Per Mertesacker or Rob Holding against Ben Brereton. And it worked. Time and time again, simple long passes over the top of the defence, exploiting the pace of Forest’s centre-forward. One time, he was released into the right channel. A chop inside Mertesacker left him one-on-one with David Ospina. A poor finish, as well as a strong left-hand, denied him the goal. Then, not long later, Brereton was released down the left channel, but he took too long to set himself and get his shot off, side-footing it, after opening his body up to try and curl his shot into the far post, straight at Ospina.

The goal was coming. And it did, just before the break, indeed come. A cross from the right side flashed in towards Brereton’s head. The deflected header was poorly cleared, twice, first by Theo Walcott and then by Rob Holding. The ball eventually fell to Eric Lichaj, again. A calm chest down, a glance to goal, and a sweeping swish of his right foot — the shot bent, dipped, and nestled into the far corner, leaving David Ospina stuck to the floor and Wenger, with a searingly angry Jens Lehmann, heading to the dressing room early. He was not happy. Nor should he be.

Arsenal started the second half the better side. A greater control of the game in the midfield areas, confident and quick passing in possession, and a growing pressure on a Forest team that had, at least for a period, lost their outlet. But chances were difficult to engineer. Other than a couple of Mathieu Debuchy crosses that were comfortably collected by Jordan Smith, they had very little to show for their efforts.

And then, gradually, Forest rediscovered their out-ball. The introduction of Tyler Walker of the left side provided an element of much-needed pace, while Brereton continued to cause major issues for both Mertesacker and Holding. The two nearly combined for a third Forest goal, after Walker’s vicious cross was bundled over the crossbar by Holding with Brereton flashing across his face, and continued to run the Arsenal defence backwards.

The third goal that Forest were searching for did, unfortunately, come. And it was, you have to say, deserved. Rob Holding dallied on the ball in the penalty area. A wayward left leg, a sharper Matthew Cash, who tumbled over Holding’s misguided challenge, and a confident Ben Brereton finish later, and Forest were staring at the FA Cup fourth-round.

There was, though, late hope: Alex Iwobi, who had been disappointing for much of the game, fed Danny Welbeck through with a wonderfully-weighted, sliding through pass. With Jordan Smith sliding out to collect the ball, he and Welbeck collided, the ball squirmed loose and Welbeck simply rolled it into the empty net. Undeserved? Absolutely. But most welcome.

That fleeting hope, as ever with this hell-ride of a football club, did not last long. Armand Traore, a former Arsenal player, beat Theo Walcott to the ball, skipped past Mathieu Debuchy and Per Mertesacker, before being brought down by the former. John Moss, again, pointed to the spot, even though it looked as though Debuchy won the ball, just, with his sliding tackle. This time, Kieran Dowell stepped up, not Ben Brereton. There were suggestions of a double-touch as he slipped in his taking. Whether there was or not didn’t really matter, because Arsenal never fail to concede a penalty.

There was late drama with a red card for Joe Worrall, who picked up two yellow cards in the space of 45 seconds in the closing stages, including a scything challenge on Danny Welbeck. Meanwhile, Smith made a phenomenal save from Eddie Nketiah in added time, with Theo Walcott inches too slow to turn the reboud inside the post.

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That ended the tie for the Gunners. It is the first time that they have been eliminated from the FA Cup at this stage in Wenger’s tenure — it was 1996 when they last lost in the third round. This was embarrassing and puts a bow on the crapfest that the festive fixtures were for this club.