The FA Cup has saved Arsenal and Arsene Wenger in recent years but the holders crashed out here against Nottingham Forest, with the manager helplessly watching from the directors’ box as he started the first game of a three-match ban.
That was imposed for his comments about referee Mike Dean, after a controversial penalty award last weekend, but Wenger needs to direct his anger to his hapless players after this defeat with Forest richly deserving the scalp.
There were two more penalty awards in this raucous clash, both correctly awarded by referee Jonathan Moss but – again – there was controversy with Arsenal rightly arguing vehemently that the second spot-kick should not have stood as there was a ‘double kick’ by Kieran Dowell as he slipped in taking it. The arguments raged and there was even a late sending off with Forest’s Joe Worrall shown red for a tackle on substitute Chuba Akpom.
To add to the Championship club’s celebrations the victory came on the weekend of the 42nd anniversary of Brian Clough’s appointment as Forest manager. In the dug-out for this fixture was caretaker Gary Brazil with Wenger’s assistant Steve Bould taking Arsenal as Wenger sat a few yards behind him.
In 21 year at Arsenal Wenger has never – ever – lost in the third round of the competition and has won the FA Cup in three of the last four seasons, but Arsenal were rarely in this tie. They fielded a hugely weakened team – nine changes – but this was an older and vastly more experienced, and obviously expensive, team than Forest could put out.
It was a rollicking cup tie with Forest preying on the Arsenal defence from the start. In the first half they scored twice and could have scored even more but for goalkeeper David Ospina making three sharp saves.
Both Forest goals were claimed by Eric Lichaj – and the 29-year-old American full-back had only scored seven career goals before this match. Both goals were well-worked. The second was simply stunning. For the first Forest won a free-kick down their right which was driven in hard and left-footed by Dowell with Lichaj charging in to head home from just a yard out in front of Ospina. The inquest began. Where were the Arsenal defenders? Was Ospina slow to react?
Eric Lichaj celebrates after scoring Forest's opener
The goalkeeper was certainly not at fault for the second. Again, this time just before half-time, it was down the Forest right with the impressive Matty Cash crossing and Theo Walcott heading out under pressure from striker Ben Brereton with the ball looping out of the area for Lichaj to run in, chest down and place a volley, arcing high into the net. Again his celebrations were exuberant.
Arsenal had quickly drawn level after Lichaj’s first goal with a free-kick swung in by Walcott and headed against the post by Rob Holding with Per Mertesacker reacting first to stab the ball home. But it was Forest creating the opportunities with Brereton taking advantage of Arsenal’s unwise decision to play a high defensive line. The 18-year-old is, after all, 15 years younger than Mertesacker. And it showed.
Before they opened the scoring Forest broke quickly, with Ben Osborn’s driven effort charged down and the rebound ricocheting across the penalty area to Cash whose low cross-shot was finger-tipped around the post by Ospina. Then the Colombian excelled again as Brereton was put through by Cash, ran away from Holding, and easily cut across Mertesacker – who simply could not respond – with Ospina parrying the striker’s shot.