14-time winners Arsenal will begin their FA Cup journey with a trip to Championship side Nottingham Forest on Sunday.

Nottingham Forest have had a season of ups and downs. After a terrible start to their campaign, the club appointed Steve Cooper as manager, who immediately lifted their spirits and results along the way. With 34 points from 25 games in the Championship, Forest have a real chance to make it to the playoffs if their performances continue.

After embarking upon a nine-game unbeaten run, Forest succumbed to a couple of defeats during the festive period, losing their clashes to Middlesbrough and Huddersfield Town. Their first match of 2022 against Barnsley could not be played due to rising Covid cases in the camp.

Facing Arsenal in the third round of the FA Cup, the EFL Championship outfit will be hoping to repeat the result from the last time they met the Gunners in the competition, having beaten them 4-2 back in 2018. However, having not made it beyond the fifth round since the 1995/96 season, they are unlikely to strike fear in an opponent of Arsenal’s stature.

Meanwhile, the north Londoners will have Mikel Arteta back on the touchline after he missed the Manchester City clash having tested positive for coronavirus. The Gunners were scheduled to play Liverpool in midweek in the Carabao Cup semifinal first leg, but the game was postponed after a Covid outbreak in the Reds’ camp.

The City defeat aside, Arsenal have been on a good run of form. They will look forward to visiting Forest and aim to get back to winning ways as they begin their quest for the club’s 15th FA Cup triumph.

Team News & Tactics

Nottingham Forest

Nottingham Forest still seem to have Covid-related problems in their camp. It is unknown which players are currently out with the virus, making it rather difficult to predict a starting lineup.  In total, they might be without at least four players for the Arsenal clash.

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Loic Mbe Soh, Alex Mighten, Max Lowe and Rodrigo Ely could be potential absentees, with the latter a major doubt if not completely ruled out. Jordi Osei-Tutu’s contract was cancelled earlier, and he has since returned to parent club Arsenal.

Forest may be able to call upon Steve Cook, who arrived from Bournemouth in the ongoing transfer window. Midfielder Harry Arter could also be an option from the bench after returning from his loan spell at Charlton.

From the look of things, Cooper will go with an attacking 4-2-3-1 setup, similar to what his opposition manager will field. The Forest manager, backed by the home support, will hope to take the game to the Gunners.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Horvath; Spence, Cook, Worrall, Bong; Garner, Cafu; Zinckernagel, Carvalho, Johnson; Davis

Arsenal

Arsenal have plenty of players absent due to the African Cup of Nations. Nicolas Pepe, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Mohamed Elneny and Thomas Partey are the key players unavailable for selection. The absence of the midfield duo has thinned Arteta’s options in the central areas, as Ainsley Maitland-Niles also left the club on loan to Roma.

Albert Sambi Lokonga and Granit Xhaka are the only two recognised senior central midfielders in the team, with Martin Odegaard and Emile Smith Rowe capable of playing there but without much experience. Xhaka hasn’t featured in training for the last two days, which further deepens the problem, forcing Arteta to integrate teenager Charlie Patino into the squad.

Patino appeared in the League Cup clash against Sunderland and could be in line to make his FA Cup debut. Two youngsters in Salah-Eddine and Omari Hutchinson are also expected to feature in the squad.

Meanwhile, there could be a shuffling of defensive players, with Rob Holding, Pablo Mari, Cedric Soares and Nuno Tavares all expected to come in. Gabriel is suspended following his red card against Man City, while Arteta might rest White for the North London derby coming up. Bernd Leno is expected to replace Aaron Ramsdale in goal.

If Xhaka is not available, we could see a midfield pairing of Patino and Lokonga. Meanwhile, Smith Rowe could come into the side in the attack, while wantaway forwards Eddie Nketiah and Folarin Balogun could also play a role. The latter is expected to join Middlesbrough, so Arteta might use him once more before that move happens. Martinelli could also be included to make up the numbers.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Leno; Cedric, Holding, Mari, Tavares; Lokonga, Patino; Martinelli, Smith Rowe, Balogun; Nketiah

Key Stats

  • Nottingham Forest have conceded at least two goals in six of their last seven matches (FA Cup).
  • Nottingham Forest were the last team to score an FA Cup goal against Arsenal in a third-round tie.
  • Arsenal have lost just two of their last 43 FA Cup matches against opposition from a lower division, one of which was away to Forest.
  • Nottingham Forest and Arsenal have met four times in the FA Cup, with both teams winning two apiece.
  • On the two occasions that Arsenal beat Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup, they have gone on to win the trophy.

Player to Watch

Emile Smith Rowe

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After starting the campaign with some superb performances, the gloss has somewhat faded from Smith Rowe’s season as Arteta has chosen Gabriel Martinelli in his place for the last five or six games. Despite that, the academy graduate has managed to score goals coming off the bench and now will get the chance to influence the proceedings from the start.

With Arteta expected to rotate his team heavily, Smith Rowe could become the de-facto leader of this side against their Championship opponents. He needs to show that he is the star on the pitch and help Arsenal progress further in the competition.

Prediction

Nottingham Forest 0-3 Arsenal

With Covid expected to play a big role in the team selection of both teams, it is the home side that seems to be affected more by the situation. Hence, Steve Cooper may be forced to field a weakened side.

Even a second-string Arsenal side could prove difficult for the hosts to handle. While fans may be dreaming of the same result that transpired when the two teams met last time, Arsenal under Arteta are a different beast. They will pounce on any defensive mistake to take advantage and score goals. We expect the north Londoners to secure a comfortable victory and progress into the next round.

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