10 January 2022

A painful, painful lesson in schadenfreude...

It was all going so swimmingly well. All too well, it turns out. For about ten minutes or so, both Liverpool and Tottenham trailed their diminutive League One visitors as we prepared to visit Championship side Nottingham Forest. The glee, the schadenfreude, the lip-smacking, and more were all there for the taking as we savored the idea of hated rivals crashing out ignominiously against lesser foes while we prepared to advance. Alas, it was not to be as first Shrewsbury wilted in short order, ultimately succumbing to a 4-1 thrashing, and then Morecambe crumbled, agonisingly close to full time in a 3-1 scoreline that flattered Tottenham to no end. Then, to make matters worse, we'll all be eating a healthy serving of humble pie as we went down in flames—again—to Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup third round.  I don't know what's worse: that Tottenham advance or that we crash out. 
More seriously, we really should have seen this coming, and not just because Forest embarrassed us the last time we faced them in this very same fixture in 2018. Apparently, they join Bayern and Barca as Arsenal-slayers. Woe betide us if we draw them ever again. To be more than fair, though, new-ish manager Steve Cooper has turned them around with a quickness. Since taking the helm on 21 September, Forest have climbed from bottom of the table to as high as seventh before slipping back ever so slightly to ninth. After winning just one of their first eight matches, they've managed eight wins, six draws, and and three losses. Despite all this, however, it seemed that we underestimated our hosts.

Fingers can't really point at Arteta, here. An attack that features Martinelli, Saka, and Ƙdegaard really should be capable of creating more chances, even against spirited opposition. If there is any fault to be found in Arteta, it's in the lack of senior leadership in the XI. Holding and Leno were the oldest players to start, but neither man through reputation, personality, or performance can really rally younger players. Even a look at the bench suggests that leadership would be in short supply, with youngsters like Patino, Biereth, Oulad M'hand, and Hutchinson making the bench. 

And that's the dilemma for Prem sides in this situation, all the more so as we look past this fixture—regrettably, it turns out—to prepare for other, ostensibly more-vital ones, such as Thursday's League Cup semifinal first leg against Liverpool. Now, however, we face a very-real risk of not having our cake or eating it. Having been dumped from the League Cup, there is no guarantee that Liverpool will roll over for us, even for as much as Klopp's hatred for the League Cup burns with the heat of a thousand suns (and remember, he's the one with the penchant for hyperbole). Whatever kind of side Klopp names for Thursday, let's hope we see the kind of performance our boys showed against Man City + Atwell last weekend. Looking past that, keep in mind that we did go into Anfield back in November and put in a creditable first half against their full-strength XI. If we can find a result on Thursday, it's more than likely that Klopp will just throw in the towel for the second leg.

Let's hope then that this painful lesson we've learned sticks with us and motivates our lads to stiffen their spines. We haven't lost three matches in a row yet this season. I somehow doubt we'll let that happen this week.