Nottingham Forest 4-2 Arsenal:
By Daniel J. McLaughlin
The magic, they say, is missing from the FA Cup - but Nottingham Forest had a few tricks up their sleeves when they faced Arsenal at the City Ground. You could barely pause for breath in the thrilling encounter in the third round, leaving players, fans, commentators and the neutral spectator, at times, speechless. The clash between the 2017 winners and the managerless side was jam-packed with action, containing two penalties, a red card, a wonder goal, and a giant-killing as Forest toppled the Gunners.
Arsene Wenger spent the game in the stands after being given a three-match touchline ban and fined £40,000. He received the ban for his behaviour in the referee's changing room after his side's 1-1 draw with West Brom. He made nine changes to the squad, and was forced to watch his game plan unravel from the stands - resulting in his first FA Cup third round exit in the 21 years he has spent with the North London side.
The hosts were in front in the 20th minute when Eric Lichaj headed in from close range. The defender met a fizzling free-kick from Kieron Dowell, struck with power and precision, reaching the ball before David Ospina was able to get his hands to it.
Their lead only lasted three minutes, however. Theo Walcott swung in a free-kick, and Rob Harding's header bounced off the post to Per Mertesacker. The German defender controlled the ball with his chest, and turned in the loose ball.
Lichaj struck just before half time to recover the lead for Forest. The home side were able to exploit the weak Arsenal defence on a few occasions, outrunning their markers only to be denied by the goalkeeper or their own shots. It was a weak clearance from Rob Holding that resulted in their second goal, when his header found Lichaj on the edge of the box. The American chested the ball down and hit it with a beautiful volley that found the top corner in the 44th minute. As the referee blew for half-time, the hosts deserved their lead.
The Gunners fell further behind in the 64th minute when Holding tripped Matty Cash in the box. Up stepped Ben Brereton, who had been impressive all game. The 18-year-old, one of the many youngsters playing for Forest, causing trouble on the wing by speeding past Mertesacker. He doubled their advantage coolly from the penalty spot.
Minutes seemed like hours for Forest, who could sense victory but could not afford complacency in a game that they controlled from the start. It could have been a nervy finish when Danny Welbeck capitalised on an error from goalkeeper Jordan Smith. Rushing out of his net to grab hold of a through ball, the goalkeeper let it out of his grasp - and striker tapped it into an empty net in the 79th minute.
The home side secured their victory with another penalty, this time Mathieu Debuchy brought down Armand Traore in the area. Dowell was chosen as the penalty-taker, and he almost fluffed his chance. The Everton loanee slipped at the vital moment, but the ball hit the back of the net. Arsenal players protested that the midfielder had inadvertently struck the ball twice, and referee John Moss consulted with his assistant, but deemed the goal in the 85th minute counted.
Joe Worrall received his marching orders late on for Forest when the defender slid in from behind, catching substitute Chuba Akpom. He had received a yellow card only minutes earlier, and was shown the red for a second bookable offence.
Nottingham Forest are back at the City Ground on Saturday, facing Aston Villa in the Championship (K.O. 5.30pm). With one cup out of their hands, Arsenal will be competing for another when they meet Chelsea in the Carabao Cup. They play the Blues in the semi-final first leg on Wednesday at Stamford Bridge (8pm).