Arsène Wenger turned on his players after watching them go out of the FA Cup to Nottingham Forest and admitted it “hurts very much” to experience a third-round defeat for the first time since he took over as Arsenal’s manager in 1996.
Wenger had made nine changes for the trip to the City Ground but said he was entitled to field such an experimental side with the Carabao Cup semi-final first leg against Chelsea coming up on Wednesday, and added that Arsenal needed to take responsibility for themselves rather than adding to his criticisms of referees.
Arsenal’s players had been convinced that Kieran Dowell had accidentally struck the ball twice when he scored a late penalty to seal Forest’s 4-2 win but Wenger spared the referee, Jon Moss, and directed his criticisms towards his own players for being, in his view, inferior in every department to the team who are 14th in English football’s second tier.
“I have said what I had to say many times and will not talk about the referees,” Wenger said. “I’ve talked about that and I have nothing to add. I just think 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.
“They [Forest] looked sharper. They had more chances and an outstanding performance. They were sharp, winning decisive challenges, and dangerous going forward, and overall they deserved to win, as simple as that. Overall I would like to congratulate Nottingham Forest.”
Eric Lichaj had given Forest a 20th-minute lead before firing in a spectacular volley to make it 2-1 after Per Mertesacker’s equaliser, all before half-time.
Ben Brereton’s penalty gave Forest a 3-1 lead and Dowall’s spot‑kick restored the home side’s two-goal advantage after Danny Welbeck had capitalised on a mistake by the Forest goalkeeper, Jordan Smith, to score Arsenal’s second goal.
Forest’s centre-half, Joe Worrall, was sent off late in the game for a second bookable offence but the Midlands club will go into the fourth-round draw on Monday despite Wenger’s assertion that his players had told him “100% that he [Dowell] double-touched the penalty”.
Gary Brazil, Forest’s caretaker manager in the wake of Mark Warburton’s sacking, was asked afterwards if he would apply for the job full-time but said he will revert to being the club’s academy director when the club appoint a new man, possibly in the coming days.
“I’m so proud of the players,” Brazil said. “It’s a really good project for whoever becomes Forest manager. We all know about Nottingham Forest. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, everyone has heard of Nottingham Forest and it’s been shown today that we still have the fanbase and potential to be in the big league. That’s where we want to take it.”
Wenger, who denied reports that Arsenal were close to signing Jonny Evans from West Bromwich Albion, was asked whether it had been a mistake to experiment with what was in effect a reserve team.
“We have a very difficult schedule and many players were on the edge,” he said. “I understand the selection will be questioned but we had eight or nine experienced internationals on the pitch and, with all respect, playing against a Championship team that would be the wrong excuse. I don’t like to talk about individual performances but it is disappointing we lost the game and that’s all I can say.”
Wenger added: “It hurts very much. We have won the FA Cup three times in the last four years. We will not win it every year and it’s a difficult competition to win but it hurts to go out in the third round. Unfortunately they were better than us. We have another big game on Wednesday and we must focus on that now. I always expect the best of my team.”
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