In the 3rd Round of the Football Association Cup, Arsenal was defeated 4-2 by English Championship side Nottingham Forest.
Arsenal and Nottingham Forest last met each other in 2016, in what was then the English Football League Cup. The Gunners prevailed 4–0 in that fixture.
Manager Arsène Wenger watched his hodgepodge side of younger reserves and fringe players crash out of the competition from the stands.
The Frenchman was serving part one of his three-match touchline ban by the English FA for his behavior after Arsenal’s last Premier League match against West Bromwich Albion.
Overall, it was a composed start to the match from Arsenal, despite having several younger players in the starting XI. Although, to be fair, there were a few careless back passes and lapses in judgement that exposed the youth of the Gunners’ side.
As for Forest, it was a well-disciplined start by the 14th-placed English Championship side who took their chances as they came and kept a strong defensive shape.
It was the visitors who were presented the first opportunity to go ahead in the 7th minute of the match. Arsenal winger Theo Walcott was in on the Forest goal, but the Englishman scuffed his shot and the ball rolled out of play.
David Ospina, Arsenal’s No. 2, was forced to make his first save of the match in the 17th minute. And, as he has done so many times in the past, the Columbian made a vital fingertip save on Matthew Cash’s off balance shot, from a ball that rolled freely across Arsenal’s penalty area
It would be a long day for the Gunners’ defense.
In the 19th minute, Forest’s Kieran Dowell won a free kick on the edge of the Gunners’ box. Dowell fired in the ensuing free kick that was fearlessly headed in by American international Eric Lichaj in the 20th minute. 1-0 Forest.
By the 23rd minute, the floodgates were open.
18-year-old Reiss Nelson continues to show immense promise and was arguably a lone bright spot for the Gunners’ attack on the day.
Nelson earned a free-kick in the attacking half, in the 23rd minute. His free-kick was nearly headed home by Rob Holding whose effort clanged off the post. In the end, it was the other Arsenal center-half, Per Mertesacker, who finished off the rebound. 1-1.
Forest’s own 18-year-old forward, Ben Brereton, was thwarted twice by Ospina in the 32nd minute.
After pouncing on a deflection and taking his touch past Mertesacker, Brereton let off a shot that was palmed away by the Columbian keeper. A minute later, Brereton split the Arsenal defense again, but Ospina read the play and came out quickly to smother the ball.
Brereton, who was a thorn for the Arsenal defense all day, threatened once more before the end of the first half, but Ospina came up big again to keep the match level at one.
It became increasingly evident toward the end of the first 45 minutes that Forest were having plenty of success exploiting the lack of pace and connectivity in the Arsenal backline.
Lichaj had a dream day and fired (literally) Forest ahead with a minute left in the half. A failed clearance by Arsenal was met with a chest and thunderous volley by the American whose shot nestled in the top corner. 2-1.
Brereton continued to threaten and looked prime to etch his name on the scoresheet in the 61st minute. A great delivery from Forest substitute Tyler Walker was nearly put away by the former Stoke City academy player, but Ospina parried it out for a corner.
Forest found a breakthrough in the 63rd minute after being rewarded a penalty. Holding tripped up Cash who had snuck into the Arsenal box. Brereton finished off the ensuing freebie cooly from the spot. 3-1 Forest.
Danny Welbeck and Arsenal pulled a goal back in the 79th minute. Welbeck took advantage of poor goalkeeping by Forest’s Jordan Smith and slid a slow-moving shot into the bottom left corner. 3-2. Game on.
The home side finished off a fantastic performance and shocking 3rd Round FA Cup upset by converting a controversial penalty in the 85th minute.
It wasn’t the penalty that was controversial, because Arsenal’s Mathieu Debuchy was as guilty as charged, having tackled Forest’s Armand Traore from behind. Instead, it was the kick, a visible double touch by kick-taker Kieran Dowell. Despite taking time to talk to his assistant, referee Jonathan Moss awarded the goal. 4-2. Match over.
It can be argued that VAR technology, which has yet to make its way to the FA Cup and Premier League, would have reversed that goal. Nevertheless, VAR would not and could not have reversed what was a shocking performance by the current FA Cup holders.
Lichaj (20′ and 44′)
Ospina; Mertesacker, Holding, Debuchy; Elneny, Willock, Maitland-Niles, Nelson; Welbeck, Iwobi; Walcott
Smith; Mancienne, Worrall, Traore, Lichaj; Dowell, Vaughan; Ben Osborn, Zach Clough, Matthew Cash; Brereton
Arsenal return to Premier League play on Sunday, Jan. 14, when the Gunners travel to the Vitality Stadium to face Eddie Howe’s AFC Bournemouth. Kickoff for that fixture is slated for 8:30AM EST.
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