Nottingham Forest 4 Arsenal 2
The FA Cup has been the Gunners’ go-to trophy in recent years - but not this season, after the side were dumped out of the competition by Nottingham Forest.
The 4-2 win was nothing less than the Championship side deserved, with a performance of confidence and creativity against an underwhelming Arsenal.
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Arsene Wenger - banished to the stands under a three-match ban for his recent criticism of referees - fielded a weaker side than that which played over the Christmas period, but yesterday’s starting XI still contained several seasoned internationals and was captained by a World Cup winner in Per Mertesacker.
All the same, the holders went out of the third round of the competition for the first time since January 1996, when they lost to Sheffield United.
Arsene Wenger arrived at the north London club the following season. Sunday’s humiliating defeat has once more reopened the debate on whether the Frenchman should call time on his Arsenal odyssey.
Celebrity Arsenal fan Piers Morgan believes so. Morgan tweeted that Wenger had dragged the club into a “never-ending mire of mediocrity”.
Morgan’s criticism drew a swift response from Gary Lineker, who reminded Morgan that Arsenal are in the semi-final of the League Cup (they play Chelsea in the first-leg on Wednesday), are still in with a shout of winning the Europa League, and are sixth in the Premier League.
The Gunners have also won the FA Cup in three of the past four seasons - but the fact remains that Wenger hasn’t guided the side to a major trophy since they won the Premier League in 2004.
Judging by Sunday’s woeful performance, the glory days will remain a distant dream for the Arsenal faithful, with the second string failing to rise to the challenge they were offered by their manager.
The likes of Danny Welbeck, Theo Walcott and Rob Holding had a rare opportunity to push for a regular place in the first string, but none of them looked particularly interested.
True, Welbeck got Arsenal’s second goal with a sharp piece of football, but embarrassingly for the England striker, he was overshadowed by Forest’s 18-year-old frontman Ben Brereton, who scored his side’s third from the penalty spot and looked lively throughout.
So did Eric Lichaj, the American defender, who scored Forest’s first two goals, the second a stunning volley from the edge of the Arsenal penalty area.
In between, Mertesacker got a goal for the Gunners, but the final say went to the hosts, with Kieran Dowell converting another penalty, despite replays suggesting it was a harsh decision to punish Mathieu Debuchy for his challenge on Armand Traore when he appeared to have first played the ball.
Wenger wisely chose not to comment on the penalty decision, instead admitting that the better side won. “We played a very good Forest team who were sharp and focused,” he told the BBC. “Overall our performance wasn’t good enough… when you’re against a team like that they’re very difficult to beat. Defensively you cannot afford the mistakes we made.”
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