Result: Nottingham Forest 1-0 Arsenal
Competition: FA Cup
Date: 9 January 2021
Venue: Forest Ground
Arsenal: Leno, Cedric, White, Holding, Tavares, Lokonga, Patino, Saka, Odegaard, Martinelli, Nketiah
Subs: Ramsdale, Tierney, Chambers, Mari, Kolasinac, Salah-Eddine, Hutchinson, Lacazette, Biereth
Lewis Grabban came off the bench to secure a 1-0 win for Nottingham Forest as Arsenal crashed out of the FA Cup at the Forest Ground.
On a day when the Gunners produced a horribly lacklustre performance, the striker finished off a slick counter-attack on 84 minutes to condemn us to a second third round defeat by the hosts in four years.
On arrival at the City Ground, Mikel Arteta confirmed that he was without nine first team players for various reasons. Unable to call on Ainsley Maitland-Niles who completed his loan move to Roma yesterday, the boss was missing four players on international duty at the AFCON (Partey, Aubameyang, Pepe and Elneny) as well as Granit Xhaka and Folarin Balogun, who both tested positive for Covid-19, and Emile Smith Rowe and Takehiro Tomiyasu, who were struggling with groin and calf issues respectively. As a result, the starting lineup was a real mish-mash. The most noteworthy inclusion was Charlie Patino, making his first start for the club, in midfield alongside Sambi Lokonga. Bernd Leno, Rob Holding and Cedric provided experience at the back while the attack was spearheaded by Eddie Nketiah with Martin Odegaard, Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli providing support.
When you’re facing lower league opposition away from home, you’re always hoping for a fast start that might shut up the excitable crowd. What we got instead was such a flat opening 45 minutes that everybody at the Forest Ground would have been forgiven for taking a nap before the break.
Both sides struggled to keep the ball and chances at either were consequently at a premium. Arguably the biggest talking point of the half (aside from us wearing white kits to launch the No More Red campaign) was Mikel Arteta’s decision to substitute Nuno Tavares after just 34 minutes. He wasn’t best pleased about it and threw his gloves to the ground in disgust as Kieran Tierney replaced him. It was probably the right call by the boss who was distinctly unimpressed by the Portuguese left-back’s errant passing.
In midfield, we looked lightweight with Rob Holding and Ben White all too often trying to take responsibility rather than give the ball to Sambi Lokonga and Charlie Patino. Whatever their reasoning, it wasn’t like they did anything good with the ball at their feet. Holding on several occasions passed to nobody in particular and his half was really summed up by a volleyed attempt from 20-yards that hit the corner flag.
While White, Eddie Nketiah and Bukayo Saka did come a little closer with efforts of their own, the Forest keeper Brice Samba was rarely troubled. White had a decent claim for a penalty when he was hauled down by a shirt tug in the box but referee Craig Pawson didn’t see it and with no VAR to fall back on, the incident went unpunished.
when winger Brennan Johnson, leaving Rob Holding in his wake, picked out Philip Zinckernagel at the near post. The Dane’s first time effort forced Leno into a very decent save.
At the other end, Saka produced a golden chance for Nketiah but the striker, climbing at the back post to meet a curling cross, made a total hash of his header. It wasn’t quite so bad as the miss at Everton in December but it wasn’t far off.
Leno was called into action for a second time just past the hour mark with James Garner’s free-kick destined for the top corner. As Bukayo Saka chased down the free ball he was lucky not to concede a penalty clattering into Jack Colbert.
Nketiah went wide with another effort before Arteta introduced Lacazette to lend him a hand up front. Patino, who struggled to get into the game, made way leaving Odegaard to drop deeper alongside Lokonga.
Martinelli took a booking for the team after hacking down Djed Spence, who in turn went into Pawson’s book for a foul on Tierney.
It was all very scrappy and we still couldn’t find another gear. If anything it felt like we were being lured into a trap. The more we committed men forward, the more Forest looked to hit us on the break. Eventually, their tactic paid dividends. After Lokonga gave the ball away, the home side broke down the right and a dangerous cross was converted by substitute Grabban. (1-0)
We had eight minutes to find a goal, or at least to create a chance, and Arteta’s final throw of the dice, which came in stoppage time, involved switching Cedric for Sead Kolasinac. It was a bizarre decision, despite the lack of options on the bench, and did nothing to change the state of the game.
Having built up some momentum at the tail-end of 2021, we’ve now suffered two defeats in a row, albeit in very different circumstances, and face a tough couple of weeks turning things around with games against Liverpool and Sp*rs. Hmm.