Arsene Wenger admitted Arsenal were “dominated” by a sharper Nottingham Forest side in Sunday’s 4-2 FA Cup loss as he saw his side exit the competition at the third round for the first time during his tenure.
The defending champions made a number of defensive mistakes and conceded two penalties in the second half to scupper any chance of a comeback as Wenger’s gamble to field an understrength side backfired.
“Overall we played against a Nottingham team that was very sharp, more dangerous than us and dominated us at the front,” Wenger told the BBC. “And after that it became a difficult game.
“We were a bit unlucky I think as well, but overall they were sharper than us, more incisive and more dominant in the challenges. We lost too many challenges to win a game like that.”
Wenger left most of his Premier League regulars at home, with teenagers Joe Willock and Reiss Nelson both starting their first game in the competition.
And with mostly academy players on the bench, Wenger had little in terms of firepower to throw on when chasing the game at the end.
With the first leg of the Carabao Cup semifinal against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge coming up on Wednesday, though, Wenger defended his team selection.
“Well, that’s the inevitable question that comes always in a cup game,” he said. “We have many players on the edge — we have to play on Wednesday again, we play Sunday, Wednesday, Saturday.
“Many times we got away with it. Not today. So is it a selection problem? Maybe. Is it an individual performance problem? Maybe, as well.”
Wenger has won the FA Cup a record seven times, including three in the last four years, but this is the first time he has failed to reach the fourth round in his 21-year stint in charge, and only the second time he has lost to a lower-league club.
“You never put disappointments behind you, but the only thing that can help is to focus on the next game. It’s true that we won the FA Cup three times in the last four years, so it hurts even more because it’s a competition we love,” he said. “That’s why it’s disappointing that we were not at the level today.”
Wenger watched the game from the stands as he began serving a three-match touchline ban for verbally abusing referee Mike Dean after last weekend’s 1-1 Premier League draw at West Brom.
The Arsenal manager has been strongly critical of referees over the last week, and again saw a controversial decision go against his team at 3-2.
Referee Jon Moss whistled for a second Forest penalty after a tackle by Mathieu Debuchy in the box, even though replays showed the French defender may have made contact with the ball first. Moss then allowed Kieran Dowell’s penalty to stand even though he slipped when shooting and seemed to hit the ball against his standing leg, sending it curling high into the net past David Ospina.
Wenger, though, said he would not discuss those decisions after the game.
He told BT Sport: “I don’t want to talk about that. I’m tired about that.”
Mattias is ESPN FC’s Arsenal correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @MattiasKaren.