Long protected at Arsenal by FA Cup glory, Arsene Wenger endured his earliest elimination Sunday when his title defense ended at managerless, second-tier side Nottingham Forest.
The decision to rest stars backfired as a 4-2 collapse saw Arsenal knocked out in the third round, when Premier League teams enter, for the first time since Wenger took charge in 1996.
“It hurts even more because it’s a competition we love,” said Wenger, who has lifted the FA Cup in three of the last four seasons and is the 145-year-old competition’s most successful manager with seven triumphs.
While Wenger has endured a Premier League title drought since 2004, success in soccer’s oldest cup competition has helped the Frenchman to gain new contracts.
The manner of the loss in Nottingham was mortifying for Wenger, who was forced to watch from the stands as he started a three-match touchline ban for misconduct toward a referee.
“They were sharper than us,” Wenger said, “more incisive and more dominant in the challenges.”
Eric Lichaj was the match-winner with two goals for Forest, which is 14th in the League Championship and without a manager since firing Mark Warburton a week ago.
After Lichaj headed in Kieran Dowell’s free kick in the 20th minute, Per Mertesacker quickly leveled but the American defender was on target again just before halftime. Rob Holding’s weak headed clearance fell straight to Lichaj, who brought the ball down with his chest and unleashed a dipping volley into the far corner of the net.
“My wife told me that if I get a hat trick any time during the year, then I get a dog,” Lichaj said. “So I was trying to get the penalty.”
There were two in the second half. Ben Brereton extended Forest’s lead in the 64th after Holding tripped Matthew Cash.
Although Welbeck pulled one back — seizing on goalkeeper Jordan Smith’s losing his grip on the ball — Arsenal conceded a second penalty. Mathieu Debuchy challenged former Gunners defender Armand Traore from behind and Kieran Dowell netted from the spot in the 85th.
With a two-goal cushion it should have been a calm conclusion for the hosts, but Joe Worrall was sent off three minutes later for a sliding tackle on Chuba Akpom.
It was too late for Arsenal, which rested Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, to mount a comeback.
And Forest secured a victory that revived memories of its heyday under Brian Clough.
The modest central England team stunned soccer from 1978 to 1980 when it won the top flight and then back-to-back European Cups. But Forest, which reached the FA Cup final in 1991 when it lost to Tottenham, has been out of the Premier League since 1999 and only avoided relegation to the third tier last season on goal difference.
Now the team, which was bought last year by Olympiakos owner Vangelis Marinakis, is preparing for the fourth round.
TOOTHLESS WEST HAM
While West Ham avoided being eliminated at Shrewsbury, midfielder Josh Cullen did have a tooth knocked out.
And the 0-0 draw means West Ham will have to face the third-tier side again with a replay at the Olympic Stadium after struggling in its third game in five days.
Cullen had a front tooth inadvertently kicked out by Shrewsbury midfielder Abu Ogogo as they both went for the ball in the 75th minute. The tooth was recovered from the turf, while a bloodied Cullen was cleaned up on the touchline before returning to the action.
Like West Ham, Tottenham struggled to breakdown a third-tier side but it did find a breakthrough after 63 minutes against AFC Wimbledon.
Harry Kane made up for Tottenham’s profligacy by scoring twice inside two minutes. And Jan Vertonghen netted from 30 yards (meters) in the 71st minute to seal a 3-0 victory at Wembley Stadium — the site of the final being used as the north London club’s temporary home this season.
Hours before Arsenal’s shock loss, fourth-tier side Newport knocked out Leeds, which is 53 places higher in the league ladder in the second-tier Championship.
Leeds led through Gaetano Berardi’s ninth-minute strike but Newport leveled through Conor Shaugnessy’s own-goal in the 76th and Shawn McCoulsky’s 89th-minute header sealed a 2-1 victory.
Leeds finished with 10 men after Spanish forward Samuel Saiz was sent off in stoppage time for spitting at Newport midfielder Robbie Willmott.