Nottingham Forest claimed a famous victory against a shambolic Arsenal team.
Arsenal sent out the B-team as expected.
Mathieu Debuchy and Per Mertesacker came into the defence, with Ainsley Maitland-Niles continuing at left back. Joe Willock partnered Mohamed Elneny in midfield. Alex Iwobi, Theo Walcott and Reiss Nelson supported Danny Welbeck up front.
Fan favourite Eddie Nketiah was on the bench.
The Nottingham Forest team featured a handful of young players, including Matty Cash, Zac Clough and Ben Brereton. Former Chelsea defender Michael Mancienne lined-up in defence, alongside former Arsenal legend Armand Traore.
It was a tentative start from both sides.
Forest had the game’s first shot on target. A ball down the left went over Mertesacker’s head, and the German found himself trailing Brereton. The young striker took a shot from a tight angle, but didn’t trouble David Ospina.
At the other end, Walcott found himself in behind in a trademark position, but completely fluffed his shot for the first “ffs Theo” of the day.
Walcott did much better after 12 minutes. He received the ball down the right from Debuchy and whipped in a good cross. Welbeck rose above the defender, but headed wide.
Five minutes later, Forest almost took the lead. A loose pass in midfield sent Clough away down the left hand side. He cut inside and forced a challenge from Mertesacker. The ball squirted loose to Cash on the right side, and his shot towards the far corner forced a good save from Ospina.
Forest kept the pressure on the Arsenal goal with a flurry of set-pieces. Maitland-Niles conceded a free-kick in a dangerous position on the right side of the penalty area. Kieran Dowell fizzed in a dangerous ball that thumped into the head of an unmarked Eric Lichaj. Ospina had little chance from close range, and the Championship side were in front.
It didn’t take long for Arsenal to respond. Arsenal won a free-kick down the left. Walcott whipped it in and found the head of Holding. His header hit the post, but bounced up kindly for Mertesacker. The BFG chested it down then poked it into the corner with his weaker foot for 1-1.
With half an hour gone, Arsenal seemed to be in control of the game. This, of course, is when they’re at their weakest.
A mistake from Holding gave Brereton a chance to take on Mertesacker. He cut onto his left foot to breeze past our captain and then tested Ospina with a good shot. The Colombian responded with a strong right hand to keep the score level.
Ospina had to be make another save Brereton got in behind yet again. He came inside onto his left foot and tried to hit one with his in-step, but couldn’t find the corner. Brereton was giving the Arsenal defence problems all half, and caused some trouble in the box when he tried to head in a Cash cross.
The ball dropped for Lichaj on the edge of the box. The American chested it down and volleyed one into the top corner. A fairy tale goal for the underdogs that sent them in at half-time deservedly leading.
So far, a poor performance and losing to two goals to a guy who had seven career goals before today.
If nothing else, Arsenal keep things interesting.
Arsenal had some work to do to recover the game. They were working the ball well in Forest’s half, but any route into the penalty are was blocked off by some good defending.
In response to Arsenal’s pressure, Forest took off Clough and put another youngster in Tyler Walker.
An hour gone and Forest nearly sealed the win. Walker got away down the left hand side and put in a dangerous cross. Brereton nipped in front of Holding, but fortunately missed the ball. The ball bounced off Holding for another corner, which Arsenal managed to clear.
The Arsenal centre backs were struggling all game and Holding, given a rare chance, typified his evening by giving away a sloppy penalty. A clumsy challenge brought down Cash.
18-year-old Brereton stepped up and put it into the top corner.
Eddie Nketiah was introduced for Willock and one of Arsenal’s few chances in the game fell to the teenager. A deft touch from Welbeck played the striker in. His feint sold the defender, but his shot was smothered by Smith in the Forest goal.
With 15 minutes to go, Arsenal didn’t look anywhere near getting back into the game. Forest were more energetic and buzzing with a two goal lead. The Arsenal players could barely keep up as they popped the ball around them to the backdrop of “oles” from the crowd.
Then, from out of nothing, Arsenal got a goal back. A through pass from Nelson found the run of Welbeck. Smith came out to sweep up, but couldn’t keep hold of the ball. Welbeck kept going and rolled the ball in at the near post. It was 3-2, and maybe an opportunity for the team to pull themselves out of the fire.
Or not, as it turned out.
Mertesacker gave the ball away in his third. Traore stole in, burst past the German and went to shoot. Debuchy came in with a late tackle, and looked to have to stolen the ball. John Moss thought otherwise, and awarded another penalty. Dowell stepped up this time, slipped, but still scored. Despite suggestions of a double touch, Moss gave the goal.
Chuba Akpom came on for Debuchy. Then, Forest defender Joe Worrall was sent off. Four minutes of stoppage time were added despite the madness of the last five minutes and warnings over timewasting.
There was still time for another “ffs Theo”. A mistake sent Akpom away on goal. He tried to lob Smith, but the Forest keeper got a touch. The ball crawled towards the goal and Walcott, following in, couldn’t get there in time to get a clear shot. The angle closed, and he put it into the side netting.
That was the last chance of the game. Forest were through. Arsenal would be having some weekends off.