Nottingham Forest (0) 1 Arsenal (0) 0
FA Cup Third Round
The City Ground, West Bridgford, Nottingham NG2 5FJ
Sunday, 9th January 2022. Kick-off time: 5.10pm
(4-2-3-1) Bernd Leno; Cédric Soares, Rob Holding, Ben White, Nuno Tavares; Albert Sambi Lokonga, Charlie Patino; Bukayo Saka, Martin Ødegaard, Gabriel Martinelli; Eddie Nketiah.
Substitutes: Kieran Tierney, Alexandre Lacazette, Calum Chambers, Pablo Marí, Sead Kolašinac, Aaron Ramsdale, Mika Biereth, Salah-Eddine Oulad M’Hand, Omari Hutchinson.
Yellow Cards: Gabriel Martinelli
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 67%
Referee: Craig Pawson
Assistant Referees: Dan Cook, James Mainwaring
Fourth Official: Kevin Friend
The fact remains, that if it’s early January, then it surely must be the third round of the FA Cup, the “mother” of all domestic cup competitions, and one that we have been successful in on fourteen occasions in twenty-one finals, more than any other club in the history of this illustrious tournament. This afternoon we are at The City Ground to lock horns with Nottingham Forest, and for this match only, Arsenal will wear an all-white kit as part of an initiative to combat youth knife crime in London. Sadly, thirty teenagers were stabbed to death in London in 2021, with teenage homicides in the capital the highest since 2008, despite a national COVID-19 lockdown. The campaign is called No More Red, in which the campaign hopes to give young people more safe spaces, and spend time with positive role models. The unique kit will not go on sale to the general public, but will be given to community organisations and is supported by kit sponsors Adidas as well as actor Idris Elba and former Arsenal and England striker Ian Wright. A most noble cause indeed.
From our squad today, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Mohamed Elneny, Thomas Partey, and Nicolas Pépé are absent because of their involvement in AFCON, and Gabriel Magalhães is also unavailable for today’s match due to suspension. With seven first team changes and three new faces on the substitutes’ bench, Mikel Arteta is certainly ringing the changes today. Please note: VAR will be used in the FA Cup, but only for matches where a Premier League club is at home, and as the Football Association did not apply for a full licence for VAR to be used in the competition from the International Football Association Board (IFAB), the organisation which sets the laws for the global game, this ultimately means that VAR cannot be used for all third round matches this weekend.
The home side kicked off the match on a freezing cold Nottinghamshire afternoon, and as one would expect, it was a slow start for both teams. There were some tough tackling from both sides, and although chances on either goal were thin on the ground in the early stages, the general atmosphere in and around the stadium was loud and febrile which befits a third round FA Cup tie. We were struggling to break through a very tight Forest midfield, which were both clever and tough and it was looking like we are going to have to use all of our guile and talent to break through and score. After sixteen minutes, we built up some good play on the right wing but the home side chased us down in numbers and made life difficult for us. We managed to work the ball over to Gabriel Martinelli on the left and eventually earned a corner for our efforts, but unfortunately it went nowhere. Forest appear to be confident on the ball and are pushing it around looking for gaps in our defence which at the moment, there weren’t, thankfully. It’s all very one-dimensional from us, but somehow Bukayo Saka sparked the team into life as he cut inside from the right wing. Amazingly, he teed up Martin Ødegaard on the edge of the Forest penalty area but the Norwegian forward was quickly closed down by the alert Forest defence. Albert Sambi Lokonga came mighty close with a good effort just after the half hour mark, and although we managed to get a corner shortly afterwards, the Forest goalkeeper easily plucked it out of the air. A lacklustre Nuno Tavares was replaced by Kieran Tierney shortly afterwards, and Bukayo Saka was heavily tackled by Philip Zinckernagel, who earned himself a well-deserved booking for his trouble. A rejuvenated Kieran Tierney then crossed a superb ball for Bukayo Saka inside the Forest penalty area but it was at an awkward angle and the England international forward just couldn’t get the ball under control and it rolled away for a goal kick. Just before the break, a very frustrated Eddie Nketiah slid in and wiped out goalie Brice Samba’s standing leg, an action in which he was very lucky not to get booked. An awful first half which finished goalless, and we are truly going to have to up our game in the second half, otherwise things may go badly wrong.
Arsenal started the second half off and just like the first half, it was dull and unimaginative football. Seven minutes after the restart, the home side nearly scored when a superb run down the right wing from Brennan Johnson crossed the ball into our penalty area, and Bernd Leno somehow made an incredible point-blank save from Philip Zinckernagel to keep us in the contest. We appear to lack pace, energy and general all-round awareness at times, and that was summed up when Eddie Nketiah missed a surefire goal from close range just before the hour. A clever James Garner free-kick brought off a world-class save from Bernd Leno to keep the scores level, and in the aftermath, we were lucky not to concede a penalty when Bukayo Saka clumsily tackled Jack Colback on the edge of our penalty area. Good job that there is no VAR today, otherwise we could have been in deep trouble there. Alexandre Lacazette replaced young Charlie Patino after sixty-seven minutes, and a few minutes later, Gabriel Martinelli was booked for a messy challenge on Djed Spence, which was a pointless exercise for all concerned. It has to be said that Arsenal appeared to be content to take this match to extra time, but with the next match being Liverpool on Thursday evening, that may not be one of their better ideas. With seven minutes of the match remaining, Lewis Grabban scored from close range after Ryan Yates ran down the right wing and crossed the ball into the penalty area for him to push the ball into the net with the outside of his right foot. Quite naturally, the goal lifted the home side, and although there was three minutes injury time, during which Cédric Soares was replaced by Sead Kolašinac, the game slipped away from us and we were unceremoniously dumped out of the FA Cup at the third round stage. Unbelievable.
Disgraceful performance. We got exactly what we deserved from that match, absolutely nothing, despite the sixty-seven percent possession statistic. Arsenal did not get one shot on target during the whole ninety minutes, and showed little or no sense of urgency throughout the game, and although we had seven changes on the teamsheet (which is no excuse) we still had enough talent out there on the pitch to win this match today. No drive, no urgency, bad attitude, little commitment, and worse than all that, little fight from the team today, and in many ways it looks as if we have gone back a year in time. This now makes the two semi-final legs against Liverpool a “must-win” situation, otherwise, as far as silverwareis concerned, the season is over.
Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as this season is going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Our next match: Liverpool at Anfield on Thursday, 13th January at 7.45pm (Carabao Cup). Be there, if you can. Victoria Concordia Crescit.
Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon.