The Third Round of the FA Cup takes place weekend with clubs from the first five tiers still alive in the competition. The Premier League sides join at this point in the tournament, with Arsenal drawing a visit to Oxford United on Monday evening.
Oxford United are currently 14th in League One (the third tier) with a record of seven wins, eight draws, and nine losses. They enter the FA Cup tie having won just one of their last five matches, including a defeat at home to Exeter City on New Year’s Day. To reach this point in the competition, Oxford first beat National League side (5th tier) Woking on the road. They then hosted Exeter City at home, winning 4 to 1.
TSF: The club won the last round at home and drew a visit from Arsenal, who currently sit top of the Premier League. What has been the mood leading up to this match and how hard is it to get a ticket to the Kassam Stadium for Monday?
GE: I’m lucky as I’ve got a Season Ticket so I could get one easily, as they sold out pretty fast! Everyone is really excited for this one and we’ve been blessed at Oxford with some great cup wins in recent years. In the last decade, we’ve beaten West Ham 4-0, Newcastle 3-0 and then Premier League Swansea 3-2, all at home.
Ahead of those games, there was cautious optimism with the club performing well in the league, whereas this one just offers some respite from a disappointing season. The relationship between the fans and manager Karl Robinson has soured, and the general apathy around the club has clouded what should be an exciting time for Oxford with new owners and a stadium move on the horizon. We aren’t expecting much but looking forward to welcoming currently the best team in the land.
TSF: This season in League One, Oxford are mid-table with a nearly even win-draw-loss record and goal difference. Can you give us an overview of what style of football they play and their typical formation?
GE: It’s normally a 4-3-3, although we have on occasion switched to a back five. In recent seasons under Robinson, we have been a possession-based attacking side, but for some reason that hasn’t been the case this time around. We’ve struggled to create chances and have sacrificed that attacking mentality in an attempt to shore up the defence.
Naturally against Arsenal, I’d expect us to drop in a bit and look to play on the counter when possible, and this might lead to a switch back to the 5-3-2, which we haven’t seen for a few weeks. I wish I could give you more of an idea of our style of play, but one of the main criticisms from fans this season is the lack of a clear identity.
TSF: Cameron Brannagan leads the club this season with eight goals, with Billy Bodin right behind him on seven goals, plus two assists. But across the pitch, who are the key players that Arsenal supporters should be watching on Monday?
GE: Arsenal fans will remember Marcus McGuane who will start at the base of midfield. It’s still clear to see the quality he possesses and why Barcelona moved to sign him from Arsenal, but he struggles to impact games the way someone of his talent should, but he will be up to put in a good display here.
Josh Murphy has been disappointing since arriving in the summer, struggling for form and fitness, but we have seen flashes of the talent recently which meant he was seen as the better twin over Jacob in their Norwich days. Lewis Bate is a young midfielder on loan from Leeds who they still have high hopes for and has clear quality on the ball. Striker Matty Taylor is our biggest goal threat and will do whatever he can to wind up both the Arsenal defence and fans.
TSF: Oxford were founded in 1893. Perhaps their best run was in the mid-80s when they won the second and third divisions, plus the League Cup. Beyond the high-level facts, what is something that Arsenal fans should know about Oxford United that perhaps most outsides don’t?
GE: When we lost 3-1 to Man City in the Carabao Cup in 2019, our 18 shots were the most any team had managed against Pep Guardiola’s side up to that date (might not be the case anymore!)
TSF: Give us your predicted starting XI for Oxford United and who wins the tie?
GE: McGinty - Anderson - Moore - Long - Brown - Bate - McGuane - Brannagan - Murphy -Taylor - Bodin
Arsenal [win] cosily - I’d just take us scoring a goal!
Thanks to George Elek for taking the time to talk with us and best of luck to Oxford United in League One this season.