In recent years, the FA Cup has proven to be one of the few moments of hope in a season perennially punctuated by disappointment for Arsenal fans.
Having stormed out as winners of the competition in 2020, Arsenal entered Sunday night’s 3rd round tie with Nottingham Forest as the favourites.
Given the absences of Nicolas Pépé, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Thomas Partey and Mohamed Elneny to the African Cup of Nations (AFCON), and the current COVID situation surrounding Granit Xhaka, Arsenal only had 1 fit midfielder in Albert Sambi Lokonga, which led to youngster Charlie Patino, the hero of the club’s recent 5-1 demolition of Sunderland, to start alongside him for his full Arsenal debut.
Arsenal started badly. It wasn’t to be totally unexpected, many of the starting XI had not played in a while, with Rob Holding, Eddie Nketiah, Cédric Soares, Lokonga, Patino, Bernd Leno and Nuno Tavares all short on minutes.
The latter of the lot, Nuno Tavares, looked particularly woeful throughout the first-half. Mis-timed controls, poor back passes and constant loose balls in the middle of the park led to his somewhat surprising first-half substitution for Kieran Tierney.
It wasn’t unexpected for some, but given that Arsenal rarely make changes in the first-half outside of injuries, it was a big call to make.
The first-half passed largely without incident, with Nottingham Forest frustrating Arsenal’s effort to pass the ball and creating one or two interesting opportunities of their own.
The second-half brought more of the same from Arsenal, who somehow managed to look even worse!
The main issue for Arsenal was stringing passes together. A far cry from the team that looked as though it would, at times, play Manchester City off the field last weekend.
What was truly staggering was that Arsenal never even looked like scoring. It truly felt as though Nottingham Forest could have not come out for the 2nd half at all and Arsenal probably still wouldn’t have scored.
It, therefore, came as no surprise when Nottingham Forest were the ones to open the scoring.
An entirely too casual bit of movement from Albert Sambi Lokonga gifted possession back to Nottingham Forest who broke forward. Arsenal, clearly anticipating a quick counterattack, were caught unawares and Kieran Tierney was left chasing shadows. An inch-perfect cross was met by substitute Lewis Grabban, who made no mistake to give the hosts the lead.
From there, Arsenal didn’t look even remotely like scoring and the final whistle was a blessed relief for Arsenal.
It was arguably one fo the worst performances ever seen by an Arsenal team in the FA Cup. To be out in the 3rd round is a fate that Arsène Wenger only met once in his career (away to Nottingham Forest, bizarrely enough) and the display was tepid enough to merit Arsenal not being invited back next season.
The performance of Nuno Tavares will likely grab the headlines after Mikel Arteta switched him out barely 30 minutes into the match, but Tavares would have grounds to question why the same treatment did not befall Cédric Soares.
The full-back, rumoured to be of interest to Atlético Madrid, turned in arguably the worst performance from an Arsenal player this season. Every single cross from the full-back was 10-feet higher than the nearest attacker and almost always hit row Z. Cédric was essentially defensive mist on the day, being passed without a care in the world and he was lucky to make it to 91 minutes, before he was inexplicably swapped out for Sead Kolašinac.
Another woeful performer was in the form of Eddie Nketiah. The forward, who’s contract with the club runs out this summer, has been spoken about in glowing terms by Mikel Arteta, and the Spaniard has been open about his wishes to keep the forward for a little longer, to which Arsenal fans would be well within their rights to ask just why he wishes to do so.
Nketiah looked very off the pace, utterly unprepared for what came his way in front of goal, woefully lacking in confidence and his miss at the end, where the ball bounced comically off his face for a goal-kick, summed up his extremely tepid day.
Arsenal will now head to Anfield for the 1st leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final with Liverpool, a truly must-win match. If Arsenal play like they did on Sunday, they will be out of the League Cup before the 2nd leg even begins.
1.) Bernd Leno
17.) Cédric Soares (Kolašinac 91’)
4.) Ben White
16.) Rob Holding
20.) Nuno Tavares (Tierney 35’)
23.) Albert Sambi Lokonga
87.) Charlie Patino (Lacazette 69’)
7.) Bukayo Saka
8.) Martin Ødegaard
35.) Gabriel Martinelli
30.) Eddie Nketiah
32.) Aaron Ramsdale
21.) Calum Chambers
22.) Pablo Marí
31.) Sead Kolašinac
3.) Kieran Tierney
65.) Salah-Eddinne Oulad M’Hand
82.) Omari Hutchinson
9.) Alexandre Lacazette
58.) Mika Bireth
Nottingham Forest team:
30.) Brice Samba
4.) Joe Worrall
27.) Steve Cook
26.) Scott McKenna
2.) Djed Spence
22.) Ryan Yates
37.) James Garner
8.) Jack Colback
20.) Brennan Johnson
9.) Keinan Davis (Grabban 68’)
11.) Phillip Zinckernagel (Cafú 75’)
Nottingham Forest subs:
1.) Ethan Hovrath
3.) Tobias Figueiredo
13.) Gaëtan Bong
21.) Braian Ojeda
33.) Lyle Taylor
19.) Xande Silva
10.) João Carvalho
7.) Lewis Grabban