Arsenal’s lack of depth exposed in Nottingham Forest upset with Mikel Arteta ‘hurting’ after throwback display

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Upset: Mikel Arteta was furious after Arsenal were knocked out of the FA Cup by Nottingham Forest  (REUTERS)
Upset: Mikel Arteta was furious after Arsenal were knocked out of the FA Cup by Nottingham Forest (REUTERS)

Every Premier League squad is being stretched to the limit, but Arsenal are being tested at the worst possible time.

They were without nine first-team players against Nottingham Forest due to injuries, Covid, suspension and the Africa Cup of Nations as they were unceremoniously dumped out of the FA Cup.

It is only the second time in the past 26 seasons that Arsenal have been knocked out of the competition in the third round. The other occasion was back in 2018, when they were also beaten by Forest.

The Championship side were worthy winners yesterday and Arsenal — who have won the FA Cup a record 14 times — now face a crucial 10 days in which they face Liverpool over two legs in the Carabao Cup semi-final and visit Tottenham in a north London derby.

Mikel Arteta will know his side cannot afford to perform as poorly as they did at the City Ground last night.

“It’s really hurting,” he said. “It’s a competition that is related to our history and to go out of it is a big bump. [We needed] more drive, more hunger to win at any cost in every single action. We were not at our level.”

Arteta made seven changes, three of them out of choice, from the side who went toe to toe with Manchester City on New Year’s Day, and the drop-off in quality was clear to see.

Arsenal have earned plenty of plaudits in recent weeks for their attacking and adventurous style, but this was a throwback to ponderous performances that had been starting to feel like a thing of the past. The fact they failed to register a shot on target summed up a toothless display.

The contrast between this defeat and the loss to City was stark, with the performance of Arteta’s full-backs being the biggest difference. Left-back Nuno Tavares was hooked after 35 minutes, throwing his gloves on the ground in anger, but on the other flank Cedric Soares could have had no complaints if he had been hauled off much earlier than the 90th minute.

Nuno Tavares was hauled off after only 35 minutes at the City Ground on Sunday night (REUTERS)
Nuno Tavares was hauled off after only 35 minutes at the City Ground on Sunday night (REUTERS)

When asked to explain why Nuno came off, Arteta said: “I just did it to try to improve the performance of the team.”

In the absence of Granit Xhaka, who has Covid, and Thomas Partey, away at the Africa Cup of Nations, Arsenal lacked control in midfield. With Mohamed Elneny also away on international duty and Ainsley Maitland-Niles now on loan at Roma, Arsenal’s options are severely stretched in the middle of the park.

Albert Sambi Lokonga is now the only fit senior central midfielder available and the pairing of him and 18-year-old Charlie Patino, making his first Arsenal start, struggled against Forest.

Even in attack Arsenal looked short, underlined by the fact that left-back Sead Kolasinac, who could leave on loan this month, was thrown on as they pushed for a late equaliser.

“I want to try to get the best out of the players we have,” said Arteta. “It’s clear where we need to strengthen, but at the moment it’s what we have and what we have has to play.”

The Gunners were forced to hand a first senior start to 18-year-old Charlie Patino (Getty Images)
The Gunners were forced to hand a first senior start to 18-year-old Charlie Patino (Getty Images)

Arteta could have reinforcements back for Thursday’s delayed Carabao Cup tie at Anfield. Emile Smith Rowe is recovering from a groin issue, while Takehiro Tomiyasu is pushing to return from a calf injury. Xhaka could make it a hat-trick of comebacks.

Arsenal are due to assess the trio over the coming days, with Arteta unsure last night whether they would be back in time. On the evidence of this performance against Forest, he needs them back as soon as possible.

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