Tuesday 20 February 2018

Furious Arsene Wenger hits out at Arsenal flops after FA Cup defeat to Nottingham Forest

Nottingham Forest 4 Arsenal 2

David Ospina leads the Arsenal protests to referee Jon Moss after
Nottingham Forest’s fourth goal. Photo: Action Images via Reuters/Carl Recine
David Ospina leads the Arsenal protests to referee Jon Moss after Nottingham Forest’s fourth goal. Photo: Action Images via Reuters/Carl Recine

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Arsene Wenger was furious with his Arsenal players after their shock FA Cup defeat to Nottingham Forest yesterday, saying that they were "not good enough anywhere" on the pitch as they kept making the same mistakes.

Wenger could only watch from the stands - this was the first game of his touchline ban - as his team was ripped apart by Forest.

Despite two contentious penalties, Wenger notably did not blame the referee, but blamed his players instead.

"I just think we were not good enough anywhere, not at the front, not in the middle, at the back, and we paid for it," Wenger said. "They looked sharper, they had more chances, that's all I can say. Nottingham Forest had an outstanding performance today, you couldn't fault any individual performance from Forest."

Arsenal could have been 4-0 down at half-time, but did not improve after the interval, much to Wenger's fury. They soon went 3-1 down and could not get back into the game.

"You know that when we came back it was important not to make a mistake again," he said. "And that's why it's disappointing. Because during the game we repeated the same mistakes. And that's where we are guilty today: once, twice, three times. And at that level you cannot afford that."

Nottingham Forest's Eric Lichaj celebrates scoring his side's second goal of the game. Photo: PA
Nottingham Forest's Eric Lichaj celebrates scoring his side's second goal of the game. Photo: PA

Wenger made plenty of changes but said that he had enough players - Per Mertesacker, Mathieu Debuchy, Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck all played - for them to get a result.

"I can understand the selection will be questioned," Wenger said. "But it would be a little bit an easy excuse, because we had eight or nine experienced internationals on the pitch."

If this was not the worst defence of the FA Cup in the modern era, it was in the top one. Arsenal, or at least a team in Arsenal shirts, were run off the park by a Nottingham Forest team so sunk in Championship mid-table that they have just sacked their manager.

This was one of those games where the clichés are appropriate: a raucous FA Cup tie where form and status were made completely irrelevant. What mattered was that this was a hungry, driven, dynamic young Forest team who shredded Arsenal with every attack.

Nottingham Forest's Ben Brereton scores his side's fourth goal from the penalty spot. Photo: PA
Nottingham Forest's Ben Brereton scores his side's fourth goal from the penalty spot. Photo: PA

As good as Forest were, Arsenal were abysmal. Wenger chose to play what is effectively his Europa League team here, given this was sandwiched between two games against Chelsea, in the Premier League and EFL Cup.

This performance, from a mixture of youngsters and fringe players, was a disgrace. They never got on the ball, they created nothing from open play and their defending was disastrous. The only Arsenal player to emerge with any credit was David Ospina, whose first-half saves stopped Forest from running away with it.

This was an Arsenal team utterly devoid of leadership, fight or organisation. The problem, or at least one of them, was that Wenger put the ageing Mathieu Debuchy and Per Mertesacker into the back four, for some baby-sitting duty. But while Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Rob Holding are quick, Debuchy and Mertesacker are not. Up against this fast young Forest front four - the eldest of whom was 22 - they simply could not keep up.

Forest could have scored five in the first-half. Arsenal were rattled and just could not keep up with the pace. They gave away a free out wide, Kieran Dowell whipped it into the near post and there was no-one to stop Eric Lichaj thumping his header past Ospina.

It made you wonder what was the point of playing Mertesacker if he cannot prevent goals like this?

Nottingham Forest fans celebrate after the match. Photo: Action Images via Reuters/Carl Recine
Nottingham Forest fans celebrate after the match. Photo: Action Images via Reuters/Carl Recine

As it happened, Mertesacker was the man to score an out-of-the-blue equaliser three minutes later. Theo Walcott curled in a free, Rob Holding's header hit the post and Mertesacker stabbed in the rebound.

Forest, though, were flooding forward and the only question was whether the half-time whistle would come before they went ahead. Ben Brereton met a cross from Matthew Cash, Arsenal weakly tried to clear but it fell to Lichaj on the edge of the box. He chested the ball and volleyed it into the top corner, a goal of ludicrous quality.

The game then became about whether Brereton could score - he nearly put in Tyler Walker's near-post cross - until Arsenal were generous enough to gift him a penalty. Rob Holding clumsily brought down Cash and Brereton seized his chance from the spot.

Arsenal did scrape an unlikely goal from their only real attack of the second-half. Welbeck, who had barely been in the game, found himself in space and shot, Jordan Smith got a hand on it and ball trickled home.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger pictured in the stands at the City Ground, Nottingham. Photo: PA
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger pictured in the stands at the City Ground, Nottingham. Photo: PA

Forest did not let that deter them from their task. Armand Traore surged down the left, past Mertesacker and then past Debuchy. He tried to make a tackle but brought Traore down, and Jonathan Moss awarded his second penalty. Dowell took it, slipped, but the ball looped up and into the net. Arsenal players insisted he touched it twice but the goal was given. (© Independent News Service)

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