FA Cup holders Arsenal knocked out by Forest
Gunners showed no desire of defending cup, says Mertesacker
Arsenal defender Per Mertesacker accused his teammates of playing like they did not want to defend the FA Cup after the holders lost 4-2 at second-tier Nottingham Forest on Monday morning (Jan 8, Singapore time).
Manager Arsene Wenger made wholesale changes to the side that drew with Chelsea during the week but even with many first-choice names absent, it was alarming to see Arsenal outplayed by a callow Championship side.
“You couldn’t see that we really wanted to defend it,” the German said. “This round is always the toughest. You face a Championship side away and you need to be ready but, for the majority of the game, we were not.”
Two goals from American Eric Lichaj before the break and penalties by Ben Brereton and Kieran Dowell condemned Arsenal to their earliest exit since the 1995-96 season.
Mertesacker had equalised Lichaj’s early header but Arsenal were overwhelmed by a side 14th in the Championship.
“The manager made a lot of changes, gave a lot of trust to players who haven’t played a lot recently and I don’t think anybody justified their selection today,” he said.
“That sums it up, I think. In the second half, there was a little bit more spirit from ourselves, but in the duels you could see that they out-battled us.”
Until then, fourth-tier Newport County had staked a claim for the biggest upset of the weekend with a 2-1 win over Leeds – substitute Shawn McCoulsky heading a last-minute winner the day after his 21st birthday.
On Saturday, 1987 winners Coventry City, who are now languishing in the fourth tier, knocked out Premier League strugglers Stoke City by the same score – a result that cost Stoke boss Mark Hughes his job.
Top flight West Ham United also flirted with danger at League One (third-tier) high-flyers Shrewsbury Town on Sunday, escaping with a 0-0 draw after being largely outplayed.
Eight-time winners Tottenham Hotspur had no trouble at home to third-tier AFC Wimbledon as Harry Kane struck twice in two minutes in the second half of a 3-0 home win.
Arsenal made nine changes to the side that drew impressively with Chelsea last Wednesday, although they still started heavy favourites against a Forest side featuring seven under-23s.
Wenger, who watched from the stands because of a three-match touchline ban, refused to blame his team selection.
“We played a very good Forest team who were sharp and focused. The challenges were decisive. Overall, our performance wasn’t good enough,” he said.
“When you don’t win, the selection is always questioned. I believe we had an experienced team – eight or nine internationals. It would be easy to think that was the problem.”
Forest caretaker boss Gary Brazil, who is trying to revive the former English and European champions' fortunes, said: “This has got to be something we build on.
“This football club should be playing against the Arsenals of this world, and they should be beating them.” – Reuters.