Arsene Wenger Slams Arsenal After Crashing Out of FA Cup But Defends Team Selection

Arsene Wenger criticized the performance of his players but defended his team selection as FA Cup holders Arsenal suffered their first third-round defeat for 22 years away to Nottingham Forest on Sunday (January 7).

The Gunners, fielding a much-changed side from the one that drew with Chelsea in midweek and with manager Arsene Wenger watching from the stands because of a touchline ban, trailed 2-1 at halftime after Eric Lichaj scored twice.

Penalties by Ben Brereton and Kieran Dowell sealed victory for Forest at City Ground, who sacked manager Mark Warburton a week ago.

Per Mertesacker had equalised for Arsenal in the first half and Danny Welbeck pulled Arsenal back to 3-2 down with 12 minutes left but the Premier League side could have few complaints at a bitter exit.

"We played a very good Forest team who were sharp and focussed. The challenges were decisive. Overall our performance wasn't good enough," said Wenger, whose side play Chelsea in a League Cup semi-final first leg next week.

"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."

He added: "We were not good enough anywhere, not up front, in the middle, at the back and we paid for it. They looked sharper."

Arsene Wenger
Arsene Wenger at The City Ground, Nottingham, England, January 7. Wenger watches on as Arsenal are knocked out of the FA Cup at the third round stage. OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty

A youthful Forest, with seven players aged 23 or under, ended the tie with 10 men after Joe Worrall was shown a red card near the end for a foul on Chuba Akpom.

It did little to detract from the party atmosphere alongside the River Trent as Forest's success-starved fans celebrated a rare day of glory for the former English and European champions.

"This football club should be playing against the Arsenals of this world, and they should be beating them," caretaker manager Gary Brazil said.

There were boos from some of the Arsenal fans at the end after they watched their side concede four goals to lower-league opposition in the FA Cup for the first time since 1908.

It was also Wenger's first taste of a third-round exit.

His decision to play a weakened line-up—only Rob Holding and Ainsley Maitland-Niles kept their places from the starting side in the impressive 2-2 draw with Chelsea in midweek—quickly began to look like a poor move.

Lichaj headed in from close range after 20 minutes but the lead lasted only three minutes as Mertesacker finished well when the ball fell to him in the box.

American Lichaj produced a moment of magic to put Forest back in front just before the interval, chesting down before looping a volley over keeper David Ospina.

Teenager Brereton sent Ospina the wrong way from the penalty spot after Rob Holding had fouled Matty Cash in the 64th minute.