Eddie Nketiah struck twice in the second half to help Arsenal to a comfortable 3-0 win at Oxford United and set up an enticing FA Cup fourth-round clash at Manchester City.
The Gunners will travel to the Etihad on the last weekend of January thanks to a vastly improved performance in the second 45 minutes at the Kassam Stadium.
Mikel Arteta’s side failed to record a single shot on target during a lackluster first half as Oxford frustrated the Premier League leaders, but Mohamed Elneny put them on their way 10 minutes into the second period with his first goal of the season.
Nketiah then confirmed Arsenal’s progress into the fourth round when he continued his impressive form in front of goal with two composed finishes that ended Oxford’s stubborn resistance.
Oxford: McGuinty (5), Anderson (6), Moore (6), Long (6), Brown (6), Bate (6), Branagan (6), Murphy (6), McGuane (6), Bodin (7), Taylor (6).
subs: Wildschut (6), O’Donkor (6), Goodrham (7), Fleming (n/a), Johnson (n/a).
Arsenal: Turner (7), Tomiyasu (7), Holding (7), Gabriel (7), Tierney (7), Lokonga (6), Elneny (7), Vieira (8), Saka (7), Martinelli (7), Nektiah (9).
subs: Zinchenko (6), Xhaka (6), Smith Rowe (6), White (n/a), Marquinhos (n/a).
Player of the game: Eddie Nketiah
Nketiah maintains sparkling form while Vieira shines
Arsenal went into their game against League One side Oxford having won 19 of their 24 matches this season and named a strong XI, despite making seven changes from the frustrating 0-0 home draw with Newcastle.
But the Gunners looked nothing like the swaggering side who opened up a five-point lead at the top of the Premier League, with Oxford – who are 14th in the third tier – holding them at bay with relative ease during the first half.
- Oxford made two changes, with Murphy and Bodin replacing Goodrham and Wildschut
- Arsenal made seven changes, with Turner, Tomiyasu, Holding, Tierney, Elneny, Lokonga and Waiera replacing Ramsdale, White, Saliba, Zinchenko, Xhaka, Partey and Odegaard.
- Saka, Martinelli and Nketiah kept their places in the front three, while Smith Rowe started on the bench
The only moment of danger came when Elliott Moore blocked Albert Sambi Lokonga’s shot with his arm in the area, but referee David Coote dismissed Arsenal’s appeals – and there was no VAR in operation to overturn his call.
Arteta was unlikely to be satisfied with what he saw from his side and was no doubt relieved to see them wake from their slumber after half-time, with Bukayo Saka seeing a shot cleared off the line by Lewis Bate.
Elneny’s header from Fabio Vieira’s inviting free-kick finally settled their nerves, and the Portuguese midfielder then claimed another assist when his sumptuous through ball set up Nketiah, who rounded goalkeeper Edward McGinty before sliding the ball home.
Nketiah then claimed his fifth goal in as many games – a huge bonus for Arsenal given Gabriel Jesus’ injury – with a delightful finish to seal the victory.
Emile Smith Rowe gave Arteta another reason to cheer by coming off the bench to make his first appearance since September following groin surgery, while the manager eased fears over Saka’s fitness after the final whistle despite the forward limping off ahead of The huge North London. Derby at Tottenham on Sunday, live on sky sports
Sunday, January 15 at 4:00 p.m
Kick off at 4:30pm
Arteta: Saka is ‘nice’ | ‘Naktiah is a great finisher’
Saka went down twice at the Kassam Stadium, eventually being replaced by Smith Rowe in the 75th minute after receiving treatment on the pitch, but Arteta insisted he had no concerns about the England international’s fitness.
“He is good,” said the Arsenal boss, who now has five days to prepare his team to face Tottenham.
Arteta also spoke about Nketiah’s form, adding: “Obviously he was waiting for this moment.
“He was patient when he needed to be, but he was in the right mindset and preparing for the moment.
“That’s why I think he looks ready and why he’s behaving the way he is, he’s shown greatness.
“He is a great finisher, the timing of his runs and the decision-making in waiting until the last moment when the keeper was committed shows his quality.
“His understanding, his work rate, I think he’s getting better and better.”
Robinson: My players have club pride
Oxford boss Karl Robinson said his players “did the club proud” with their display against the Premier League leaders, while questioning the awarding of the free-kick from which Arsenal opened the scoring.
Gabriel Martinelli went down to win what looked like a soft foul, and Robinson told ITV: “Question mark on whether it was a free-kick or not, but the ball in is the reason they are Premier League players.”
He added: “We lost control of the game in the main part of the second half.
“From my point of view, the players did the club proud. We fought in all areas, they didn’t look like a team that far apart from the other team.
“We have good players. It is the first time I have probably my strongest team to compete. We have a good team, a good team – one that is full of energy and exciting to watch.”
Oxford United Next game sees them return to League One action with a trip to Fleetwood On Saturday – kick off at 3:00.
Arsenal Next outing is the North London derby, with the Gunners traveling to Tottenham For a crucial Premier League fixture on Sunday, live on sky sports – Kick off at 4.30 pm.
Mikel Arteta’s side will face another huge Premier League test Manchester United Sunday, January 22, live on sky sports – Kick off at 4.30 pm.