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YOUNG GUNS

Why Nottingham Forest beating Arsenal should have surprised absolutely no-one

There have been many false dawns for the Reds in the past decade, but the strength of their academy is one shining light that is paying huge dividends.

If history only remembers the winners, why has everything said about Nottingham Forest beating Arsenal in the FA Cup third round on Sunday been about the Gunners’ lacklustre display rather than Forest’s brilliance?

There has been plenty of introspection and chin-rubbing about Arsene Wenger ‘disrespecting’ the cup he has famously become the king of, and critics have pointed their fingers at the youthful Arsenal side’s naivety and inexperience when it came to first-team action.

However, here’s the problem – it seems no-one has remembered that Forest’s side that demolished the Gunners were just as young, but, to put it simply, they were just far, far better.

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18-year-old Ben Brereton tucked away a penalty for Forest in in the 64th minute. 21-year-old Joe Worrall got sent off late on, but only once he’d deadened the Gunners’ threat. 21-year-old Tyler Walker came on for 22-year-old Zach Clough after 56 minutes as this supposedly inexperienced side put Wenger’s team to the sword.

Of course, to most (myself included) it was a shock victory and a cup upset.

There was no festive cheer for Forest prior to this match – they’d only picked up two points from a possible 15, sacked manager Mark Warburton and put in dire performances against Sheffield Wednesday and Sunderland, losing both matches at the City Ground.

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But what Wenger and Arsenal couldn’t have accounted for is how much the youngsters of Forest raised their game for the special occasion, making even seasoned professionals such as Per Mertesacker look like the schoolboy who gets picked last in the playground.

Whilst headlines have subsequently been made by right-back Eric Lichaj and his delightful dog, far less has been said of Forest’s dedication to youth and it now paying rightful dividends.

There’s a thing on Twitter amongst Forest fans called the ‘Ben Brereton Club’. The first rule of Ben Brereton club is, you’ve guessed it, don’t talk about Ben Brereton.

The 18-year-old is sought after by a number of top clubs, but he is just one of many young stars Forest will now do well to keep hold of in the coming years.

This is nothing new to any fan, however.

In the past five years the City Ground club have seen a host of young players come through the famous Nigel Doughty Academy and move onto Premier League clubs.

Patrick Bamford only played 10 minutes for Forest before he was sold to Chelsea, while goalkeeper Karl Darlow and Jamaal Lascelles moved together to Newcastle in 2014 – the latter of which is rightfully on England’s radar after becoming the Magpies’ captain this season.

Then there’s Oliver Burke, who made the bold step to move to Red Bull Leipzig after tearing up the Championship with the Tricky Trees.

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Burke’s move might not have gone completely to plan, but it’s easy to forget that he is still just 20 years of age and playing Premier League football with West Brom.

As mentioned at the top of the piece, Forest didn’t beat Arsenal because the Gunners were playing some youngsters, it was because Forest’s youngsters were just better.

Under the stewardship of Gary Brazil, who has been the academy manager since 2014, Forest’s blooding of youth is the major success story coming from a club with little to shout about in recent times.

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So it was fitting that it was Brazil in the dugout on Sunday, acting as caretaker manager after the departure of Warburton late last year.

Brazil has been the man to successfully bring the players through from youth teams to the senior set-up, and if you thought Forest’s win over Arsenal was a flash in the pan moment for the bright young things, you will probably be eating your words in years to come.