Lewis Grabban’s late show stuns Arsenal for Nottingham Forest in FA Cup
Four years ago, a defeat at the City Ground put paid to Arsène Wenger’s unblemished record in the FA Cup third round. Nobody seriously expected Mikel Arteta to put a 21-year streak together but Nottingham Forest ensured he has also now lost his first game at this stage.
The frustration for Arsenal’s manager will be that this defeat was entirely deserved, because the Championship side were simply brighter, bolder and, it often seemed, hungrier. Their winner, scored by the substitute Lewis Grabban seven minutes from time, did not come as a huge surprise and Arsenal departed without registering a shot on target.
Grabban’s goal was dispatched expertly, in the familiar style of a 33-year-old who has made a career of coming alive in the box, and the move that brought it encapsulated most of what had come before. When Ryan Yates intercepted Albert Sambi Lokonga’s sloppy pass in midfield and, via a pass from Brennan Johnson, was sent away down the right it was far from the first time Arsenal had been exposed down that side. Forest had enjoyed themselves there all night and, when Yates crossed perfectly for the stretching Grabban, that translated into unconfined delight. A mini pitch invasion ensued and Steve Cooper’s hosts, who look a sight better than ninth in the second tier, can anticipate a derby with Leicester next month.
Arsenal’s players had cut striking figures in a one-off, whited-out kit designed to highlight their “No More Red” anti-knife crime initiative. It was a crisp look but they struggled throughout for precision against opponents who, in lining up strongly, clearly felt this tie could do their play-off hopes little harm. Forest were brisk and snappy, urged on by a crowd that clearly fancied the occasion, and looked far more willing than their visitors to go through the gears.
Nuno Tavares, one of seven injury, Covid and Africa Cup of Nations-enforced changes to the Arsenal side that ran Manchester City close last Saturday, threatened to increase the prospects of another upset early on with a bizarre intervention as proceedings continued to fizz. His right-footed backpass towards Bernd Leno was wildly overhit and aimed at chest height, forcing the keeper to concede a corner awkwardly.
Arteta had been able to select a familiar attacking midfield trio of Bukayo Saka, Martin Ødegaard and Gabriel Martinelli but there was more of a scratch feel elsewhere. Charlie Patino, the gifted 18-year-old whose debut in the Carabao Cup last month brought a goal against Sunderland, was given his first start in midfield alongside Lokonga. Sliding into a sharp challenge inside 40 seconds, Patino quickly showed some understanding that steel would be required alongside grace but not all of his colleagues cottoned on.
Forest forced the tempo through Djed Spence, a rangy wing-back who restricted Martinelli on the Arsenal left while frequently exposing Tavares, and the speed of Johnson. Philip Zinckernagel probed around them, standing up a delicate cross from the byline that begged to be attacked, but for all their bright work Forest had not managed a shot of note by half-time.
Not that Arsenal achieved significantly more. Saka and Lokonga both saw efforts deflected off target, the latter strike causing Brice Samba brief concern in Forest’s goal, but an agitated Arteta did not look happy. He made that obvious in replacing the struggling Tavares, who was not injured, with Kieran Tierney in the 35th minute. Tavares needs to seize chances like this one and knew it, judging by a frustrated reaction before he sat down.
Inspiration had come second to perspiration at both ends. Spence attempted to reverse that within a minute of the restart but sliced a cross-shot behind. It was another strong start from Forest, Zinckernagel sparking plaintive shouts for a penalty after falling in the box, although Eddie Nketiah saw Steve Cook block his shot as Arsenal countered and had his ears warmed by a well-positioned Saka.
The game’s first shot on target came within a whisker of producing its opening goal. Zinckernagel took it, forcing Leno to react smartly after connecting from 12 yards out, but the chance owed everything to the highly rated Johnson. He flipped the ball over his own head on halfway and showed Rob Holding a clean pair of heels before centring accurately for his teammate. It was an electric piece of initiative but, moments later, Arsenal should have rendered it a distant memory.
Nketiah had the goal at his mercy when found unmarked by Saka just before the hour but got his header all wrong, sending it away from goal. Although a bit-part player nowadays, Nketiah usually dispatches such openings with no fuss and Forest had received a major let-off.
For the first time, a goal for either side did not seem a tall order. James Garner drew a parry from Leno with a meaty free-kick from 30 yards before Nketiah blazed over from an angle. He was joined up front by Alexandre Lacazette who replaced the neat but quiet Patino as Arteta sought to avert the spectre of extra time.
It was another replacement striker, though, who struck the decisive blow and gave Arteta his wish in a way he will find hard to stomach.
- FA Cup
- Nottingham Forest
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