Arsenal Exit FA Cup As Defence Bossed By An 18-Year-Old

By Kevin Whitcher

Online Ed: New nadir in dying days of the Wenger era

Arsenal went to the City Ground with the kind of team that had been fielded so far this season in the League Cup and the Europa League – two competitions they still have an interest in. Arsene Wenger decided to field a 4-1-2-3 formation, presumably in the belief that a pair of central defenders would be enough to cope with Forest’s 18-year-old target man Ben Brererton. The Arsenal side, we were informed, featured seven players who had won FA Cup Final winners’ medals with the club, whilst their hosts fielded seven players aged 23 or under.

@GreedyGooner goes all Gary Neville on Forest opener

Before the game, I was sent a text that told me about Saturday’s Arsenal Under-16s game against Aston Villa. The young Gunners were 4-1 up, allowed Villa to pull it back to 4-6, before Arsenal scored two late goals to level the scores. 6-6. There is a policy that from the first team all the way down to the kids, all the sides, whatever their age group, play in the same, Wengerball style. And looking at that scoreline, there is no question it’s succeeding. As to whether or not the club can challenge again with Wengerball… well, I look forward to Graham Perry’s next Arsenal Circular to hear the arguments.

Arsenal were hopeless all over the field, as admitted by the manager after the game. He had no place to hide, although he pointed the finger of blame at his players: ”We were not good enough anywhere—not up front, in the middle or at the back—and we paid for it. We repeated the same mistakes; once, twice, three times. There may be some controversy over Forest’s fourth goal (it was a penalty, but there is certainly an argument that the taker did have two touches before the ball hit the net), but rather than clutch straws we need to look at the build-up to the foul – in which both Wally Walcott and the soon-to-be-retired (one season too late) club captain were both culpable. It is difficult to envisage Mertesacker will ever pull on a shirt for the first team again after a performance that will go down in the annals of Arsenal history for all the wrong reasons. And it is also difficult to envisage why on earth the club would turn down any kind of offer from Southampton to get the espresso machine living-nicker off the wage bill. Wanting to retain the latter is a very obvious sign of Arsene Wenger’s creeping delusion. Theo did offer a decent free-kick that led to Arsenal’s equalizer at 1-1, but that was pretty much the extent of his contribution. The real question is what the hell Southampton see in him.

I digress. Ainsley Maitland-Niles was played at left back in the back four, and was partly responsible for the first two Forest goals, He brought his opponent down for the free-kick that led to the first after being foxed by a short corner routine. And for the second, he was simply beaten by his opponent in the build-up to the goal. AMN may very well become a very accomplished midfield player in time, but at left-back – especially in a four with less cover – he is exposed too often. Will he be selected on Wednesday v Chelsea? Are there any other options? Would it not be better to bring in an actual left back from the U23 side if both Kolasinac and Monreal are crocked?

Arsenal had most of the ball, but Forest had most of the quality and easily the best chances. They could have scored six or seven on another day. On one level it was humiliating, but in reality, was anyone really that surprised? The way the first team have defended of late, even with three at the back, one expects Arsenal to concede minimum three goals every time they take the field. That’s quite a handicap for the forwards to claw back.

Wenger sat in the directors’ box alongside Jens Lehmann and Boro Primorac. It was interesting to see Lehmann remain calm as the collapse ensured, whilst Wenger became animated. Behind them sat two guests of the club, Pat Rice and David O’Leary, who in their playing days would never have seen anything like this, although Rice got a taste of it in his final seasons as Wenger’s number 2.

The lack of any sense of basic defensive nous for the first goal was criminal. The Forest right back could see he would be played onside if he ran towards the ball behind the wall. Couldn’t anyone in an Arsenal shirt? Zonal marking isn’t much good if you are not marking the zone where the ball is going. The 12 days of Christmas may have ended on Saturday, but a Wenger coached defence is one gift that just keeps on giving. Forest had plenty more chances and Per Mertesacker must be wishing he called it a day after his excellent FA Cup Final performance. I suspect in time, Arsene Wenger might also reflect the same way.

The worst thing about this was that I really did not care. Going out of the FA Cup used to hurt once upon a time. Now, I think everybody’s just marking time until we can finally see the back of Arsene Wenger. The air of apathy that pervades home matchdays is palpable. I know we have to go through more pain before there is change at the club and everybody can move on, so this is all necessary. It’s really just a question of how much longer it can be allowed to continue, because anyone can see the team is not going to get any better. It's only going one way. I think I wrote after the Chelsea game about the notion that not being in the Champions League should have assisted the club to make a more focused assault on the title, and yet they are worse off than last season. I’d give the manager his cards tomorrow, but that obviously isn’t going to happen, yet the very least the board can do is call time on the old dictator in May. What exact purpose would another season of this serve?

Arsene’s effective time at Arsenal was effectively concluded with the move from Highbury. His last hurrah the run to the Champions League Final in 2006. After that we had to wait eight years for another trophy, and Arsene managed to deliver three FA Cups in four years. Credit to him for that, but a club of Arsenal’s stature should at least be competing for the title at the business end of the season and making the last eight of the Champions League more often than they have managed (twice) since 2006. Isn’t it obvious to everybody that there is never going to be a repeat of the 1997-2006 era? Time moves on. People that stick around too long go stale.

One wonders why the players were not switched on. Was there a sense of arrogance going into this game. Mohammed Elneny made a token attempt to get to Lichaj’s volley of his chest but it was too late and too uncommitted. The determination we see occasionally in this Arsenal team was notably absent. To add to the ignominy, Armand Traore, a Wenger reject, who seems to have been spending more time in the tattoo parlour than is good for you, made the run that led to the fourth goal.

Notably, the manager decided not to travel with any big games as an insurance policy on the bench. The reality is that in spite of winning the competition three times in the last four seasons (a lot of that down to getting a disproportionate number of home ties), Arsene Wenger does not care greatly for this competition. The priority is the league and (when in it) the Champions League. That is where the big money prizes lie and it’s notably where Wenger fails the most. He’ll talk up the FA Cup when it suits him but actions speak louder than words.

It’s sad to see someone like Mertesacker, a good club man, finish in this kind of way. But ultimately, the fact that this defensive disaster took place against a Championship team stuffed with youngsters, and not a Liverpool, Manchester United or Chelsea, is surely the final exposure of the emperor’s new clothes. This cannot be allowed to continue. I’d hang on until after Wednesday’s first leg of the League Cup Final and if that goes badly, bite the bullet and just get someone in short term to rejuvenate the team for the remainder of the campaign. Work on organization and motivation.

Arsene just lets his players express themselves. And his players are expressing they don’t give two hoots, happy in the comfort zone the manager indulges them in. Sitting pretty without ever having to be accountable to anyone. It’s a recipe for rot and it really needs to be addressed before the summer, when it surely will. Thanks for the first decade of glory Arsene. Now please, if you really do love the club as much as you profess, jog on.

Martin Keown post-match said about Per Mertesacker, “You’re the last person that thinks your time’s up”. He could have been talking about the manager.

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8th January 2018 09:53:13


Comments and Reaction

User comments on this article are now closed. If you want to continue the debate, why not do so on the Gooner Forum.

Scruff  10:12am 8th Jan 2018

'Infamy infamy' cried Lord Wenger 'they've all got it in for me'. It was the referees fault, we were tired, the schedule was tough on us, it's Sky's fault, it's BT Sport's fault, there is a conspiracy against,the FÀ don't like me, the English media don't like me, don't blame me blah blah blah. And so the circus will continue get a couple of wins and the spin doctors will fool the idiots (Untold) and then get humiliated and listen to the same old ****e! Tooaw you little rascal please come and defend that performance. - Post No. 111657

peter wain  10:22am 8th Jan 2018

I totally disagree about the second penalty it was a poor decision and the full back got the ball. Having said that the total shambles of the team is an indictment of how poor a manager Wenger is. Players having no left foot being played wide left what is that all about. Players being played as left backs who clearly are no that. centre halfs who can barely run and international forwards being made to look second rate which they are. Quite why we have no decent centre half at the club is worrying. No defenders of any ability and goalkeepers who are less than dominant.I suppose we will get the mantra judge me in May but if we are lower than last season we will have gone backwards and with no discernible strategy unless you count spend as little as possible and charge as high as possible. We need a root and branch change not stupid emails saying how marvellous we did in the transfer window. What will we get the usual platitudes until the season ticket window shuts and then comment like we only need two players three at most. What we need is a realistic appraisal of the first team squad and with a view to ditching about 75% of them. Fat chance with this idiot in charge. - Post No. 111658

The Man From UNCLE  10:27am 8th Jan 2018

I cannot believe that picture. A Sunday morning team would defend better than that. - Post No. 111659

Gunner Rob  11:15am 8th Jan 2018

Wenger is turning into Brian Clough as each day passes (minus winning in Europe of course) - Post No. 111660

Exeter Ex  11:23am 8th Jan 2018

That photo says more than 1,000 words. Wenger's philosophy on defence has always been 'If we have the ball the opposition cannot hurt us'. The slight flaw in that is 100% possession is impossible so you have to have some sort of plan without the ball. But he doesn't bother. It's unarguable now the early success was built on the defence already knowing their stuff and self-managing. As Kevin says, this is only going one way. Those still trying to defend (that word again) Wenger at this stage might as well try and hold back the tide. But the tide is taking a painfully long time to finally come in and engulf him. - Post No. 111661

Seven Kings Gooner1  11:28am 8th Jan 2018

The first goal was the worst out of the 4 conceded - Ospina is just not big enough to be a goalkeeper. A small part of me thinks Wenger is deliberately ruining Arsenal, how else can you explain his disregard for the basics of football coaching. The next manager is going to have to be absolutely ruthless to rectify all that is now wrong with club. - Post No. 111662

Paulward  11:40am 8th Jan 2018

Completely agree Kevin, every chance they’ll get tonked on Wednesday too. The reallity is Wenger will remain until at least May 2019, however bad things get. - Post No. 111663

Yes its Ron  11:42am 8th Jan 2018

re CL - thank heaven this team isnt in it. There is a lot of apathy but the allocation was still sold out wasn't it? The 2nd pen was dubious but a tackle from behind there? Always risking it. Perhaps one of the worst post war Cup defeats as i see it and ive seen a few. Credit Forest though. Well deserved. Great Club and we need them back to take the places of the likes of some of the no tradition, no history clubs who now populate the PL in my view.They are a Club whove had yrs of awful ownership though. At least Wengo admitted we d been well beaten but in truth i dont honestly think either him or the players cared too much. In fact he looked quite relieved to be out. This decline will continue apace for a while yet i suspect while the clubs internal politics continue to bubble. They ll struggle to get past Chelsea in the LC but dont be at all surprised if Wengo pulls a result from his hat! He has history. Reality is that the clubs immediate and long term interest needs Chelsea to see them off now and thus provide a catalyst for change. The team and club is in a sorry state, exemplified by the wallys further display of weak kneed ineptitude. He truly sums Arsenal up, though others to a lesser degree are almost as hopeless. - Post No. 111664

Bard  11:56am 8th Jan 2018

A truly awful defensive performance. To see the defence bullied by an 18 year old was a sight to behold. In any other club there would be a serious inquest but this is Arsenal and it will be brushed under the carpet. I felt sorry for the young lads, where was the leadership. Only Danny put in a shift the rest didn't turn up. All credit to Forest they deserved to win. - Post No. 111665

1971 Gooner  12:02pm 8th Jan 2018

Well, if we ever did sing "There's only one Mertersacker" we won't any longer as there are clearly two of them: the one who bestrode the FA Cup Final like a colossus, bringing back memories of Baresi in his pomp and; the other who played yesterday as if someone had tied his boots together and looked as if he's spent the interim having intensive coaching sessions with Gus Caesar. What an absolute shambles. - Post No. 111666

tony porter  12:08pm 8th Jan 2018

We were awful but so was the referee - the foul by Maitland Niles took place a yard from the touchline, not where Forest placed the ball, Macienne clearly shoved Welbeck over in their penalty area but that was ignored and he added nothing for Forest's time-wasting, despite summoning Macienne and telling him was going to do so. Mind you, that was a kindness: we didn't want to watch that shambles any longer. - Post No. 111667

Paulo75  12:17pm 8th Jan 2018

Stan / Ivan - Are we progressing under Arsene Wenger? In fact have we done so in the last 10 years plus? There is no coming back to even top four status under the current Manager. The rot set in a long time ago but is now beyond the pale, FA Cup wins or not. That Wenger himself has not stepped down in the face of rapidly falling standards surprises me let alone the total lack of leadership shown by his supposed superiors. Agree with previous posts also in that there is no point recruiting in January whilst the current coaching team is in place. - Post No. 111668

TonyEvans  12:29pm 8th Jan 2018

This was up there with Wrexham and York City for me, but the big difference, back then, was how much it hurt. I don't give a stuff now. Tragic is the word that springs to mind, but even that doesn't do justice to the shambles Wenger has presided over for so long now; a shambles that has driven die hard Arsenal fans to desert the club in droves. Even more tragic is the fact that he will not quit, seemingly will not be sacked, and may well even be offered a new contract. Don't bet against it! - Post No. 111669

Yes its Ron  12:41pm 8th Jan 2018

TONY - I think Wellbeck was trying to buy a pen off that shove. It was lightweight. As for the time killing, thats what good teams do at the right time in games. The purity of Wengo values has expunged it from our repertoire and hopefully a new Coach will re introduce it. I didnt think the ref was so bad. Its all gone a bit crazy these days blaming refs via the media. Its ll done to cover up the reality of defeats and all Coach's are hypocrites at times, Wengo especially so. I d like to see him ref a school kids match and i vouch hed screw it up! Forest used a few darks arts of course. Credit due i say. The Church of Wengos Arsenal needs to wise up similarly. We used to be good at it! - Post No. 111670

Reality Cech  12:56pm 8th Jan 2018

Unfair. Forest don't have a manager and weve got Wengo. Clearly an advantage to them. - Post No. 111671

Redshirtwhitesleeves  13:09pm 8th Jan 2018

Very well summed up Kev. It should hurt being dumped out the cup but nobody gives a toss anymore thanks to this dictator and that bunch of cowards disgracing the famous shirt. (They've even f***** that up with that blue monstrosity) - Post No. 111672

The Man From UNCLE  13:31pm 8th Jan 2018

Managers have been blaming referees for their own teams' ineptitude since time immemorial. Who are they going to blame now video review is coming? PS who wants to bet that the old phony will somehow blag a result at The Bridge. - Post No. 111673

Goonhogday  13:44pm 8th Jan 2018

Agreed, most fans are beyond caring anymore. It’s a very sad state of affairs on and off the field. Complacency is rife at Wenger’s Arsenal and wish the Wengerball era would end rather than put up with this any longer. I don’t care about rotation excuses for the carabao cup either. We have to face Chelsea home & away first before presumably, Man City!! Good luck with that Wenger!! Wenger out, Kroenke out. - Post No. 111674

Scruff  14:03pm 8th Jan 2018

Some people attempting to categorise this alongside the Wrexham defeat,absolutely no way, that was a one off the same as Walsall Swindon etc because them teams were either reigning champions or future champions unlike this lot. - Post No. 111675

Yes its Ron  14:04pm 8th Jan 2018

When you saw the effort those non league and lower league teams gave for their Clubs on the week end and then contrast it with Arsenals putrid, puny offering, it says it all about what Wengerland N7 represents. In truth, theres nothing more to be said about things, but if nothing is said, Wengo and the regime gets exactly what he/it wants. - Post No. 111676

mbg  14:12pm 8th Jan 2018

This once great and proud club the f*****g laughing stock of England and all Europe, because of one arrogant egoistic past it old man. Any resignation yet ? We want wenger out. - Post No. 111677

GSPM  14:19pm 8th Jan 2018

Did anything new happen ?? Wenger sacked or leaving - No !! Same old then, nothing to see here , move on. In Wenger we rust. - Post No. 111678

mbg  14:52pm 8th Jan 2018

There we are then, excusses can even be found for that, if you didn't read it you wouldn't believe it (or maybe you would) some just can't let go, you couldn't make it up. Any resignation yet. - Post No. 111679

MAF  15:27pm 8th Jan 2018

The Picture is good. it is absolutely laughable to be honest, i can hear Neville & Cara going balmy. laurel + hardy defending as I said before, easily found out by a Championship Team. We all remember the invinceables, well we are now in the era of the ''very-easily-beatables''. Wenger has managed to undo all of his past legacy with consistantly 5-10 disasters per season last 5 years. Arsenal has now become a Comedy Act. Zipper the most slefish man on the planet continues to milk £10mpa while this happens. - Post No. 111680

mbg  15:30pm 8th Jan 2018

Tony Evans, spot on, boy did we care and it hurt alright, as you say now ? not at all, I bet some of us even laughed, and it's all down to and thanks to wenger, this is where he has brought us too. Go now wenger your not fit for purpose. - Post No. 111681

CORNISH GOONER  16:05pm 8th Jan 2018

Phew, didn't see that one coming ( Oh really, no-one is surprised these days are they?)! Arthur the ONLY manager in the Western World who could survive a result & performance like this. I did have a delusional thought that just maybe Josh Kroenke was in on Ivan's plot to remove the old fraud of a dictator but when I checked his performance in running Daddy's other "sports" companies in the States I was given a reality check. So at least another season of this rubbish & spin it is then. There is also enough quality in the first team to give Arthur another "get out of jail free" card on wednesday - if Mesut & Co can be arsed. - Post No. 111682

Alsace  17:38pm 8th Jan 2018

I know whet you are saying but Arsene Wenger is not fit to lick the boots of the bloke employed to lick the boots of Brian Clough. Clough, before he was overtaken by events, was a person who knew what he was doing. A competent professional who knew to employ competent professionals. Wenger could not organise a defence to save his life and never has been able to do so. He stood briefly upon the shoulders of George Graham and Don Howe and upon a mound of talented Frenchmen. He may have worked thousands of days in football but he learns nothing. - Post No. 111683

mbg  19:25pm 8th Jan 2018

His favourite get out of jail card gone, and oh how it saved his skinny arse over the last three seasons, but not this time, and his Fa Cup record in tatters, one the AKB's like to regurgitate when the going gets tough for their messiah, but one gained and an ego buster that'll they'll never mention, it couldn't happen to a better fraud. wenger out now. - Post No. 111684

GoonerRon  0:35am 9th Jan 2018

I get the need for rotation after the festive schedule and a number of injuries but it’s ridiculous to not at least have an insurance policy on the bench just in case. It’s not Wrexham proportions as we were champions and they were bottom of the 4th tier but it’s still pissed me off that we’re out and played so ****tily. - Post No. 111686

Yes its Ron  12:18pm 9th Jan 2018

Henry Winter spoke the absolute truth last night on TV. 1. No leaders on the pitch or off it. 2. Long past his date to remain 3. Arsenal have no spirit or presence 4. A team devoid of any identity 5. a team with players who wouldnt have got nr the club years ago. etc etc etc. He and Purslow who used to work for Chelsea and Liv both said AW should have gone years ago. Stating the obvious of course. The media are getting braver and more up front in their views on Wenger. Hes been media protected for years and its slipping. - Post No. 111692

Issue #269 - Out Now!

Gooner Editorial

23rd February 2018

It Is Actually Getting Worse

Online Ed: Arsenal’s largely unmotivated players defeated at home