Arsenal went out looking like Real Madrid, all in white and came back looking like Real Valladolid.
They started sloppy and slack – with no pace. There were nine players missing from either AFCON, virus, injury, or suspension. Maybe it was post-Covid malaise, over-confidence, or a mixture of both.
Patino and Lokonga in midfield. Nketiah up front. Saka, Odegaard and Martinelli behind with Soares and Tavares flanking Holding and White, with Leno in goal.
Forest gave debuts to Steve Cook (from Bournemouth) at the back and Keenan Davis (Aston Villa) up front. The City Ground team haven’t lost a home tie in six years. Arsenal have only gone out of third round once in 25 years – to Forest four years ago.
There is a historical connection between the clubs and why Arsenal wear red shirts.
Talking of history, Arsenal have an identity tied up in the FA Cup – and the performance didn’t reflect that. And that is a worry.
Arsenal started slow and sloppy, exemplified by Tavares who gave the ball away four or five times in the first 30 minutes and sent a back-pass which turned out to be a shot – shouldered for a corner by Leno. The Portuguese was subbed for Tierney after 35 minutes, threw his gloves down and scowled and didn’t look at Arteta. At least it shows passion.
Forest locked on to the Arsenal midfielders and gave the centre backs time and space. They used the ball badly.
In terms of attack, Nketiah and Lokonga strikes were both deflected for a corner, illustrating the tightly organised Forest defence.
Arsenal fans were expecting an improvement after half-time, but Forest upped their game.
The threat was down the right and the speedy Johnson easily beat Holding in a foot race and squared for Zinckernegal who connected well. But Leno dived to save.
Martinelli gave a free kick away in a dangerous position, tracking back and Man U loanee Garner tested Leno who pushed it out. Saka nearly gave away a penalty trying to clear.
At the other end, Saka, the main creator found an unmarked Nketiah who only had Samba to beat – but he contrived to hash it – in two minds whether to head of chest it. All this transfer talk has maybe unsettled him. It was exemplified a few minutes later as he found rare space in the Forest area but shanked his left-foot effort well wide.
Saka had a chance to lob Samba who was out of position but decided to take a touch and cross to Lacazette, but Worrall shepherded the Frenchman away.
It was one of those games where you could sense an opposition goal coming. And with eight minutes left, Lokonga lost the ball in midfield, and it was chanelled to Yates who found space on the right and crossed to on-running Grabban (on for Davis) to tap home with Cedric and White trailing in his wake, following his zig-zag movement.
Mikel Arteta said: “We were not good enough and we have to apologise for it.”
“We needed more drive, more hunger to win at any cost in every single action, much more. We were not at our level.
“They score, we didn’t. It is not good enough on the day. There was no drive or quality and too many errors and give-aways. We needed to compete better. We didn’t have the capacity to mentally change and adapt to win. It wasn’t there.
On the Tavares substitution: “It is a decision have to make at certain moments to improve performance of the team.”
“Nine players were out – that’s an explanation. But I expect the team to play better. It is nowhere near the level or standards required.
“Today we showed we are not capable of winning away from home. It was not a performance to win the game.
Rather than picking out individuals, Arteta said: “It is a collective issue.”
FA Cup Third Round: Nottingham Forest 1 Arsenal 0
Nottingham Forest: 30Samba, 4Worrall, 27S Cook, 26McKenna, 2Spence (Booked at 78mins), 22Yates, 37Garner, 8Colback, 11Zinckernagel (Booked at 35mins, Substituted for Ribeiro Dias at 75’minutes), 20Johnson, 9Davis (Substituted for Grabban at 67’minutes)
Arsenal: 1Leno, 17Cédric Soares (Substituted for Kolasinac at 90+1’minutes), 4White, 16Holding, 20Tavares (Substituted for Tierney at 35’minutes), 23Sambi Lokonga, 87Patino (Substituted for Lacazette at 69’minutes), 7Saka, 8Ødegaard, 35Martinelli (Booked at 74mins), 30Nketiah