Oh, the magic of the Cup…
Eric Lichaj‘s greatest wish in life — to welcome a brand new member, of the canine variety, into his family — has finally come true.
[ MORE: Wenger says no approaches for Alexis Sanchez… yet ]
After scoring a brace (including this stunning volley from the edge of the box — WATCH HERE) in Nottingham Forest’s 4-2 victory over Arsenal in the third round of the FA Cup on Sunday, Lichaj told the post-game television interviewer, “My wife told me that if I score a hat trick this year, I can get a dog. … I was trying to get the penalty, but Vaughany (David Vaughan) told me politely to go away.”
On Monday, the entire footballing world — from fans of Forest, to fans of other clubs and even teammates — got behind the cause and helped Lichaj promote the #getericadog hashtag.
It worked. (Look away, Arsenal fans, for the newest member of the Lichaj family is named… Gunner. Yes, really.)
Relax, it was just banter.
After Arsenal was soundly beaten by Nottingham Forest 4-2 in the third round of the FA Cup on Sunday, Arsene Wenger was quick to criticize his players’ defensive performance, but dismissed any notion that the weaker side selected played a part.
“It was very frustrating,” Wenger said when asked about having to watch the game from the stands due to his touchline ban.”Unfortunately it was the case on top of that to see the team lose because we played against a very good Nottingham Forest team that was sharp, focused, won the challenges that were decisive and you know overall our performance today was not good enough to win the game.”
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When asked about his team selection, which featured a defensive pairing with a combined 11 Premier League appearances this season in Rob Holding and Per Mertesacker, plus the presence of Joseph Willock, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, and Reiss Nelson in the starting lineup, along with the absence of first team players Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, Jack Wilshere, Hector Bellerin, Petr Cech, Granit Xhaka, Aaron Ramsey, Alexandre Lacazette, Olivier Giroud, and Francis Coquelin from even the substitutes bench, Wenger brushed off any criticism of himself. “We had 8 or 9 international players and only 2 young players in the team so I believe it would be a bit easy to think that was a problem today.”
When the interviewer followed up by asking what he thought the problems were then, Wenger answered, “Defensively you cannot afford the mistakes we made today to get away with a good result.”
Finally, when asked about his thoughts on the controversial penalty awarded to Nottingham Forest that led to their final goal, Wenger wouldn’t be baited into blaming the officials again. “For the referee, honestly, I’ve said what I had to say, I don’t need to say anymore. That’s all I can tell you.”
League One side Shrewsbury Town impressed against West Ham, Spurs rode Harry Kane to victory, and a weak Arsenal lineup slumped to an embarrassing defeat on the road as the FA Cup third round continued on Sunday.
In the early game, West Ham had almost nothing going forward against the League One opposition, with Shrewsbury out-possessing the Hammers 56%-44% at home and they out-shot their Premier League opponents 9-4. Joe Hart was forced to make a pair of saves within a minute near the end of the first half while wearing a baseball cap to keep the game scoreless in what proved to be the best two chances of the game.
City Ground was the site of the day’s biggest upset as Nottingham Forest downed Arsenal 4-2 thanks to a pair of goals from American international Eric Lichaj. He struck first 20 minutes in when the defender snuck behind the entire defensive pack on a lateral set-piece and headed home right on the doorstep to put Notthingham Forest 1-0 up.
[ VIDEO: USMNT defender Eric Lichaj scores brilliant volley against Arsenal ]
The Gunners responded almost immediately as Per Mertesacker capitalized on the scramble after a Theo Walcott free-kick hit the post via the head of Rob Holding, but it would’t hold. Lichaj struck again just before halftime in absolutely stunning fashion with a wonderful volley into the top corner for a 2-1 lead. Forest would add some insurance past the hour mark as Rob Holding fouled Matthew Cash in the penalty area and dangerous 18-year-old Ben Brereton deservedly converted from the spot, sending David Ospina the wrong way.
Arsenal held 70% possession throughout the match, but the weak side that included Mathieu Debuchy, Mohamed Elneny, Reiss Nelson, and Theo Walcott managed just two shots on target until the 79th minute when Danny Welbeck pulled out a consolation, but again it didn’t last as Mathieu Debuchy fouled Armand Traore in the area and Kieran Dowell roofed it despite slipping. On the other end, Forest looked the side with more cutting edge as Brereton and his supporting cast looked far more dangerous against Holding and Mertesacker. They were reduced to 10 men with a minute left in regulation after Joe Worrall was given a second yellow for a bad foul, but they held on strong.
And finally, it took Tottenham an hour to break through, but Spurs eased by AFC Wimbledon 3-0 on a quickfire double from – who else – Harry Kane. The England star scored in the 63rd minute and again in the 65th minute to put Spurs well in front. Defender Jan Vertonghen put the game away six minutes later to put Spurs three-up. Kane started next to new signing Fernando Llorente, but the Spaniard struggled to have an effect on the game.
Eric Lichaj already had one goal to his name in the FA Cup match against Arsenal. By a defender’s standards, that was already surprising.
It wasn’t enough for the American.
Lichaj deposited an absolutely stunning volley into the top corner of the net to give Nottingham Forest a 2-1 halftime lead over Arsenal, with Arsene Wenger helplessly watching from the stands amid a touchline ban.
A cross into the box by Ben Osborne meant for the head of the dangerous Ben Brereton was cleared by a pair of Arsenal defenders, but only to the top of the box. There, Lichaj collected the clear by chesting the ball to himself and volleying it before it hit the ground. He hit the ball spectacularly, looping it over the defense and leaving goalkeeper David Ospina crumbling to his ankles.
Lichaj earlier in the match had put Forest 1-0 up 20 minutes in when he headed home a free-kick. The 29-year-old expertly snuck in behind the entire defensive pack and used the 2-man Arsenal wall to play himself onside. Kieran Dowell sent in the free-kick, and Lichaj crashed the ball into the back of the net despite a heavy challenge by Ospina.
The goal was good enough to get Lichaj trending on Twitter worldwide.
The pair of goals on the day up Lichaj’s goal tally to three on the season for Forest, coming into today with just one on the campaign so far. It’s also one more than he has for the US national team in his 13 caps for his country. He goes for the hat-trick in the second half as Forest looks to hold off what will surely be plenty of pressure from the Gunners. Nottingham Forest has conceded 42 goals in Championship play so far, just two less than the most in the league.
The FA Cup 3rd Round takes flight for another day, with already one Premier League team out of action in this round.
Stoke City was embarrassingly eliminated by League Two side Coventry City yesterday, sealing the fate of now ex-manager Mark Hughes. Now it’s up to West Ham, Tottenham Hotspur, and Arsenal to get the job done all against lower league opponents.
[ LIVE: Follow all the FA Cup scores here ]
First, West Ham travels to the west coast to take on League One side Shrewsbury Town, with a 9:00 a.m. ET kickoff. Since suffering defeat in three of his first four matches in charge, David Moyes has managed to turn the Hammers around, losing just once in league play since December 3rd, although they did fall in their last Cup outing, a 1-0 loss to Arsenal in the EFL Cup quarterfinals. Meanwhile, Shrewsbury is pushing for promotion to the Championship, currently in second place in the League One table and making it all the way to late October before suffering its first loss of the league season.
Then, Tottenham hosts fellow London club AFC Wimbledon at 10:00 a.m. ET, who also currently resides in League One. Unlike Shrewsbury, AFC Wimbledon is struggling mightily in league play and has been sucked into a relegation battle, currently in 21st and just a point above the drop.
Finally, Arsenal gets its visit to Nottingham Forest under way at 11:00 a.m. ET, traveling to the Midlands for the trip to City Ground. Forest sits 14th in the Championship table, although they have conceded 42 goals this league season, two off the most in the league. Interestingly, Forest picked up its first draw of the season last time out in league play, a 0-0 result against Leeds that marked the first time all year they finished level with an opponent. They have won just one game since November 21st. Meanwhile, Arsene Wenger begins his three-match touchline ban today for Arsenal after disparaging comments made about Premier League refereeing.