FA Cup holders Arsenal have crashed out of the third round of the tournament for the first time in Arsène Wenger’s 21-year-reign as manager, with Nottingham Forest claiming a 4-2 victory at the City Ground Stadium.
Two second-half penalties from Ben Brereton and Keith Dowell looked to kill off the Gunners in a well-executed display from the underdogs, with Forest initially finding the lead twice in the first period through Eric Lichaj.
Goals either side of the interval from Per Mertesacker and Danny Welbeck promised to shake Arsenal’s fortunes up a bit, but they’d eventually come up short against the managerless Championship side.
From the stands in the first of Wenger’s three-game-suspension, the Frenchman opted to rotate most of his squad and leave Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Rob Holding as the only survivors from Wednesday’s 2-2 draw at home to Chelsea.
With both clubs setting out to test the waters, it was Nottingham Forest who were first to apply real danger through Matty Cash’s shot across goal in the 17th minute, with David Ospina following the trajectory of the ball and getting a touch to it on its way out.
A goal would follow for the hosts in the 19th minute, as Eric Lichaj ghosted in at the near-post from a whipped free-kick to bundle the delivery over the line in Ospina’s presence.
It was Arsenal’s turn to seek some set-piece joy in the 23rd minute, however, with Rob Holding rising highest to nod the ball onto the post before Mertesacker could react to the rebound and grab an equaliser.
Brereton looked to threaten the Gunners backline at each opportunity, cutting in from the right and leaving the visitors requiring a strong palm from Ospina to deny another goal at the City Ground Stadium.
The Forest forward tried his luck once again, this time roaming in from the left channel before seeing another shot saved.
And meanwhile Brereton continued to struggle versus Ospina, Lichaj showed no such troubles with his next effort on the brink of half-time, as he held up Holding’s headed clearance with his chest before raising the roof with a volley into the top corner from the edge of the area.
Brereton pressed on in the second-half, coming close to adding to Forest’s 2-1 lead with a blocked flick-on from Tyler Walker’s 60th minute cross.
Things turned from bad to worse for Arsenal soon after when Holding’s late tackle brought Cash down in the box for a penalty, as Brereton finally claimed his goal from the spot.
Arsenal sought the inspiration of young Eddie Nketiah off the bench, who’d provide a neat turn inside the area in the 69th minute before firing a shot at Jordan Smith on his left foot.
A stroke of luck in the 79th minute saw Smith spill the ball and gift Welbeck the chance to reduce Forest’s advantage, slotting the ball into an empty for 3-2.
The North Londoners garnered yet more ground to criticise the officials upon after Mathieu Debuchy tackled around the goal-bound Armand Traore, convincing the referee of another penalty inside the box in the 83rd minute.
John Moss was again under intense questioning when Keith Dowell, stepping up to the spot, appeared to have touched his penalty-kick twice when slipping, with the referee going on to validate the goal and setting Arsenal up for a 4-2 defeat.
A chance late on for Chuba Akpom ensured it wasn’t to be the Gunners’ day, as his dinked effort took a touch just wide of the goal before Walcott failed to catch up with the ball.
The result concluded itself at 4-2, with Arsenal’s poor form away form home continuing.
By Patrick Ribeiro
Player Ratings: David Ospina (6) – Mathieu Debuchy (5), Per Mertesacker (4), Rob Holding (4), Ainsley Maitland-Niles (5) – Mohamed Elneny (4), Joe Willock (5), Alex Iwobi (5) – Theo Walcott (5), Reiss Nelson (6), Danny Welbeck (4)
Subs: Eddie Nketiah (5), Chuba Akpom (-)