FA Cup holders Arsenal fell at the first attempt on Sunday evening in a drama-filled 4-2 loss to Championship outfit Nottingham Forest.
Arsene Wenger, who was sitting in the stands at the City Ground, watched his team concede mid-way through the first-half as defender Eric Lichaj opened the scoring. Per Mertesacker equalised only two minutes later with a coolly taken finish before Lichaj struck a stunner to edge Gary Brazil’s men ahead again.
Forest assumed control after the break with a pair of penalties from Ben Brereton and Kieran Dowell despite Danny Welbeck pegging back the hosts with only ten minutes left on the clock.
Forest fly early on
The hosts started brightly and forward Ben Brereton reacted quicker than the Arsenal defence by forcing David Ospina into a smart, low save within the opening five minutes. The Colombian goalkeeper also had to be alert to tip Matty Cash effort around after a good set-up by Zach Clough with a probing run into the Arsenal penalty area.
The Championship outfit did not have to wait much longer though to strike the opening goal. On-loan Everton man Kieran Dowell whipped an excellent free-kick in from the right-side and full-back Eric Lichaj ghosted in to thunder a powerful header into the roof of the net from only yards out.
Mertesacker levels matters
It was another defender who equalised for the FA Cup holders. Earning a free-kick from the left-flank, the ball found its way to Rob Holding who smacked the post. The rebound though was smartly controlled by Per Mertesacker and stroked into the net with Forest scrambling to clear.
Another excellent save from the Arsenal goalkeeper kept the scores level after Brereton had again raced away from the Arsenal back-line. The 18-year-old cut back onto his left foot and looked to curl into the far corner but Ospina got a strong paw to the ball to divert it away. The battle between the two resumed with only minutes left in the first half. The youngster tore into the Arsenal box but could only shoot straight at the Arsenal man.
Lichaj strikes again before the break
Forest ended the first-half the strongest and went into the break deservedly ahead. With Arsenal failing to clear, Lichaj controlled the ball on the edge of the area. The American then unleashed an unstoppable volley into the top-right corner to again snatch the lead for the Championship outfit.
The hosts could even have stretched their lead mid-way through the second-half. Substitute Tyler Walker crossed towards Brereton but Rob Holding got back well to deflect the youngster’s volley away for a corner. The Reds did though have the opportunity to score their third only minutes later. Holding tripped Matty Cash as he raced into the box and referee, Jon Moss, did not hesitate in pointing to the penalty spot. Brereton stepped up and sent Ospina the wrong way, placing the ball into the right-corner.
Welbeck restores hope but Forest earn another penalty
Forest continued to threaten their illustrious opponents but keeper Jordan Smith had to be alert to save from substitute Eddie Nketiah who had wriggled free from the Reds’ defence. The stopper though gifted Arsenal hope going into the last ten minutes of the game. The ball was played in behind the Forest backline and Smith looked to be collecting. It bounced off the stopper though and Danny Welbeck was able to roll home into the unguarded net.
As Arsenal looked to be getting back into the game, the hosts were awarded another penalty. Armand Traoré intercepted the ball in midfield, skipped past Mertesacker and was felled by Mathieu Debuchy. Kieran Dowell placed the ball and despite slipping, powered it into the roof of the net. The holders appealed that Dowell had touched the ball twice when placing the spot-kick but the goal was awarded.
The drama only continued to perpetuate as Forest defender Worrall scythed through and was shown his second yellow after picking another up only a minute earlier but the hosts held out to eliminate the FA Cup holders and progress to the fourth round.
It is hard to find a place to start with this match. Possibly labelled a perfect cup tie, Forest thoroughly deserved to progress past their Premier League opponents. The Gunners were out-fought, out-thought and out-played in Nottingham, despite their much-changed team.
The likes of Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck, senior member of the squad, rarely troubled the Forest defence and once the hosts had notched their third from the penalty area, it looked like plain sailing.
Gary Brazil’s troops will find out their opponents in the next round on Monday evening.
Nottingham Forest: Smith (7); Lichaj (9), Worrall (6), Mancienne (7), Traoré (7); Osborn (6), Vaughan (7), Cash (7) (McKay (N/A), 87′), Dowell (7) (Mills (N/A), 90+2′), Clough (7) (Walker (6), 66′); Brereton (8).
Arsenal: Ospina (7); Debuchy (5) (Akpom (N/A), 87′), Mertesacker (6), Holding (4); Nelson (5), Willock (5) (Nketiah (5), 64′), Elneny (5), Maitland-Niles (5); Walcott (4), Iwobi (4), Welbeck (6).
Goals: Lichaj (20′, 44′), Mertesacker (23′), Brereton PEN (64′), Welbeck (79′), Dowell PEN (85′)
Referee: Jon Moss
Yellow Cards: Debuchy (84′), Ospina (85′) Mertesacker (86′), Worrall (88′, 89′)
Red Cards: Worrall (89′)
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