The FA Cup is set to begin this weekend, and most English teams shall now compete on two to three fronts. However, two teams that got eliminated in the 4th round of the competition last year shall now go toe-to-toe on Sunday. Nottingham Forrest may be in the Championship but would be ready to take on a heavyweight like the Gunners. Mikel Arteta has impressed in the league and the Cup competitions this season, and he would be looking to ease past The Reds on the weekend.
Notts Forest to deliver a shock?
The Garibaldi have turned quite a few heads in the Championship this season. They finished 17th in the table last season and had early exits in the Cup competitions. However, they changed managers quite early this season, and Steve Cooper has been working wonders at The City Ground.
The West Bridgford-based side have adopted an attacking mentality and are fearing few opponents. After all, this is a side that nearly went unbeaten in November and December. However, defeating Arsenal shall be quite a task, but their Welsh manager is capable of handing a surprise to Mikel Arteta and co.
The Gunners have had few deficiencies this season, but they have enough weaknesses to attack. Top-scorer Lewis Grabban will surely be looking to target the centre-backs and become a dominating presence. The Gunners have suffered against sides that possess burly strikers, as evidenced by their performances against Romelu Lukaku, Richarlison, and Joshua King. The Jamaican striker shall also look to cause problems on the counter-attack.
Grabban is likely to be supported by Brennan Johnson, Philip Zinckernagel, and Joao Carvalho. The former is a formidable 20-year-old talent that has incredible technical ability on the ball and can create enough chances to cause issues to the opposition. Forest normally enjoy possession but are unlikely to be able to do so against the Gunners. This could work against Johnson, but the playmaker has already scored 5 times and provided 4 assists this season and would not be looking to add to his statistics on the weekend. Zinckernagel is yet another player that has caught the eye this season. His tremendous work rate on the right-wing, coupled with a sound crossing ability, has been really helpful for the Tricky Trees this season. Apart from Grabban, the Danish winger has been involved in the most goals for the club this season and will be looking to add trouble in the upcoming FA Cup tie too.
Carvalho, on the other hand, has not enjoyed a lot of joy this season playing behind the strike force. However, the Portuguese ace has not been used enough but has looked encouraging when given chances. He slips in between the lines and acts as a link between the defence and attack. Like Johnson, he too shall feed off the scraps on Sunday to act as a threatening force against the Arsenal backline.
Cafu and James Garner could be the midfield duo to start against the Gunners. The Brazilian ace has not played a lot of football this season but remains capable of doing a fine job by protecting the backline and supporting the frontline. At 28, he is one of the more experienced names in the squad and has a calm nature about his passing. Garner, however, has been the name on the lips of several fans this season. The Manchester United loanee has characterized Steve Cooper’s football by his style of play this season. His eye for intercepting passes, stopping counter-attacks and dictating play has been key for the Championship club this term. With Arsenal likely to have a depleted midfield on Sunday, Garner and Cafu could gain a stronghold in the midfield battle.
Right-back Djed Spence is another youngster that shall be looking to impress against the 14-time FA Cup Champions. The Middlesbrough loanee has been a consistent figure in the side under Cooper and has made sure to make his case to his parent club. Although not the most attractive player going forward, his defensive resilience and support in build-up play has been integral to the team. On the other end, 33-year-old Gaetan Bong could be looking to gain some game-time and use his experience to thwart the attacking intensity of the Gunners. Not the most prominent player on the pitch, the Cameroonian could be keen on showcasing that he still has quite a bit left in the tank.
Joe Worrall has acted as the primary centre-back this season, and he could be partnered by January signing Steve Cook. The latter recently arrived from Bournemouth and has previously faced Arsenal. He is aware of the size of the opponents and could assist young Worral in maintaining patience against a relentless opposition frontline. Ethan Horvath is likely to be between in the posts on Sunday and will be looking to impress his manager as he looks to gain the No 1 spot at the club.
Forest defeated the 13-time top-flight champions in the FA Cup in 2018 on home soil and will be looking to repeat the feat again on the weekend.
Nottingham Forest team news vs Arsenal:
The Reds were set to take on Barnsley at the start of this year but had to postpone it following a flurry of Covid-19 cases. Cooper is set to be without Mohamed Drager, who has left for AFCON duty, while Jordi-Osei Tutu has returned to his parent club, Arsenal. In terms of injuries, the Welsh tactician is likely to be without the quintet of Alex Mighten, Max Lowe, Loic Mbe Soh, Joe Lolly, and Richie Laryea. Regardless, Forest have a good enough side to cause problems to the heavy favourites in the tie.
Arsenal to coast through the Third Round?
The 2020 FA Cup champions were defeated by Southampton in the Fourth Round of the competition last year but shall look to make it all the way this season. The Gunners were unlucky against Man City at the start of 2022, but the runaway Premier League champions stole a victory away from the hosts. Arsenal could have bounced back in mid-week in the first-leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final, but the surge in Covid-19 cases in the Liverpool squad saw the game postponed.
Regardless, Mikel Arteta will look at the FA Cup tie as an opportunity to keep his players on their toes. Aaron Ramsdale has performed impeccably between the posts this season, but Bernd Leno is sure to get a run in the team on Sunday, as has been the case in the Cup competitions this term.
The full-back duo of Cedric and Nuno Tavares shall be looking to get some minutes under the belt too. The latter impressed in the absence of Kieran Tierney through his energetic runs, pressing nature, and chance creation ability. Cedric has been restricted to the Cup games this season and has looked decent. The 30-year-old has played second fiddle to Takehiro Tomiyasu and is proving to be an able deputy to the Japanese star. It is unlikely that those roles are going to change anytime soon, but if the Portuguese full-backs keeps up the good performances, he could feature for the club if they get in the latter stages of this competition.
Ben White and Rob Holding are certain to form a centre-back partnership, and the English duo will be looking to keep a clean sheet. Lewis Grabban is a force to reckon with but the tactical understanding of White coupled with the hungry-for-minutes Holding could do a fine job in the centre of the backline.
Albert Sambi Lokonga is likely to get a chance to display his midfield talents on Sunday. The Belgian ace arrived in the summer but has not been able to establish himself as a starter. He has made use of the EFL Cup to make his case, and the game against Forest is sure to be a similar outing. Granit Xhaka could be his experienced partner for the evening as the Swiss star looks like he has turned a new leaf this season following a boost in his confidence after penning a new deal.
Arteta will want his side to score multiple goals and also keep things fresh at the same time. Thus, Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe might just start the fixture but might be taken off once the job is done on the day. The Hale End academy products have gone from strength to strength this season. Smith-Rowe has worked supremely well as an impact substitute, while Saka has established himself as one of the best wingers in the top-flight, with his goal against Man City last weekend a key example of the same.
Young Charlie Patino could also be given the nod for the weekend tie. The innately talented 18-year-old has been punching above his level in the U-21s and U-23s in recent seasons and has trained quite a bit with the senior squad during the course of this campaign. He got his debut in last month’s EFL Cup quarter-final against Sunderland as he came off the bench to score the last goal in the 5-1 rout. The Englishman could now be in line to make his first start for his boyhood club.
Like Saka and Smith Rowe, Gabriel Martinelli might also be included in the starting XI against Forest. The Samba boy returned from injury this season and has been the difference-maker. His massive work rate, cunning dribbling skills, and eye for goal have hugely contributed to the Gunners fighting for a Top 4 spot. He has led the line previously but could face trouble against the burly duo of Steve Cook and Joe Worral. Regardless, his quick movement could just about be enough to lead his side to a victory on Sunday.
Forrest might have defeated Arsenal in the FA Cup in 2018, but the Gunners did their revenge with a 5-0 thumping in the EFL Cup in the 2019/20 season. One would not rule out the away side doing the same in the upcoming game.
Arsenal team news vs Nottingham Forest:
Following the defeat to Man City on Jan 1, Mohamed Elneny, Thomas Partey, Nicolas Pepe, and ex-captain Pierre Emerick Aubameyang left for the AFCON. Apart from them, Gabriel Magalhaes is set to face his one-game ban in this match and could now be available for both legs of the Carabao Cup semi-final against Liverpool. Additionally, Sead Kolasinac has returned to training, but it could be a couple of weeks before he returns to action. Eddie Nketiah, who scored a hat-trick against Sunderland in last month’s EFL Cup tie, is a doubt for the game through injury, as is Calum Chambers. Folarin Balogun would have featured, but he is closing in on a loan deal to Middlesbrough.
Nottingham Forest Predicted XI: Lee Horvath; Djed Spence, Joe Worral, Steve Cook, Gaetan Bong; Cafu, James Garner; Philip Zinckernagel, Brennan Johnson, Joao Carvalho; Lewis Grabban.
Arsenal Predicted XI: Bernd Leno; Cedric Soares, Ben White, Rob Holding, Nuno Tavares; Albert Sambi-Lokonga, Granit Xhaka; Bukayo Saka, Charlie Patino, Emile Smith Row; Gabriel Martinelli.
– Jack Wilshere – Is a fairytale Arsenal return on the Cards?
– Gabriel Martinelli – Has Arteta unearthed the true potential of the Brazilian Wonderkid?
– Emile Smith-Rowe: Arsenal’s Present & Future
– Martin Odegaard: Arsenal’s very own Luka Modric