The magic of the FA Cup was on full, albeit controversial, display at the City Ground as Championship side Nottingham Forest edged holders 4-2 in a thrilling third round tie to send the Gunners crashing out of the competition at the first hurdle.
With Arsene Wenger serving a touchline ban for his ‘abusive comments’ towards Premier League referee Mike Dean, the North Londoners knew that the once great Forest would not make life easy for them.
The Premier League giants rested several big names, fielding a starting XI with a mix of youth talent and fringe players and perhaps the lack of cohesion, especially at the back, cost them dearly as they found themselves trailing to Forest defender Eric Lichaj’s 20th-minute strike.
Arsenal’s back-three of Rob Holding, Per Mertesacker and Mathieu Debuchy was exposed time and again, with 18-year-old striker Ben Brereton constantly looking to run in behind the rusty defenders and coming close to scoring.
The Gunners, however, struck soon after via Mertesacker to level proceedings before Lichaj would score, in all probability, his most famous goal to give the hosts a vital lead heading into the interval.
The American defender struck a marvellous volley from the edge of the box and David Ospinia, who was having an outstanding game till then, was stranded as the ball flew into the top corner and with one half left, Arsenal were up against it and they knew it.
While Forest keeper Jordan Smith was a busy man, arguably Ospinia had been called into action more often, despite Arsenal’s monopoly over possession.
Forest, under caretaker-manager Gary Brazil, kept threatening with pace on the counter, with Brereton making a nuisance of himself.
The 18-year-old got a chance to get himself on the scoresheet when Rob Holding committed a foul in the box and the striker sent Ospina the wrong way to suggest an upset was very much on the cards with less than half an hour left in the tie.
Danny Welbeck reduced the deficit after a blunder by Smith in the 79th minute but the Gunners would gift Forest a second penalty.
Former Gunner Bertrand Traore was felled by Debuchy inside the box and what happened next incensed the away side.
Kieran Dowell stepped up to take the spot-kick but he slipped and clearly hit the ball twice enroute to scoring. After much deliberation, match referee Jonathan Moss ruled the goal was legal, much to the disbelief of Mertesacker and co.
Forest defender Joe Worrall was sent of in the dying stages but there was to be no miraculous comeback as the hosts held on for a famous win.
In the other FA Cup matches on Sunday, Tottenham Hotspur eased past AFC Wimbledon 3-0 thanks to a Harry Kane brace and a goal from Jan Vertonghen while Shrewsbury Town forced West Ham United into a replay with 0-0 draw. Elsewhere, League Two side Newport fashioned an upset to knock out Championship side Leeds United to make it a day of remarkable results.