Arsenal took care of business in the FA Cup 3rd round, beating Oxford United 3-0 at Kassam Stadium. It wasn’t the prettiest performance from the Gunners, especially in the first half, but in the second, Mikel Arteta’s side proved far too much for the home side to handle. Turns out bringing on Granit Xhaka and Alex Zinchenko makes a difference.
The Gunners looked disjointed in the opening 45, which is to be expected from a somewhat rotated side. It was clear they were missing the ball progression and tempo-setting that Thomas Partey and Martin Ødegaard provide. It didn’t help that while Mohamed Elneny was dropping deep to help break Oxford’s enthusiastic but ineffective press, both Fabio Vieira and Sambi Lokonga were trying to make themselves available by running up-field to find pockets of space. One of them needed to come back to the ball.
The only shot (I believe) Arsenal managed in the first half was blocked by what looked to be a handball. It probably would have been given by VAR but because the match was at Oxford, VAR and goal-line technology were not available.
Arsenal looked better in the second half, particularly when Xhaka and Zinchenko came on. The changes seemed to help Vieira in particular, who made the most of having more time and space to become Arsenal’s primary creative threat. He took the free kick for Mo Elneny’s opening goal and put in Eddie Nketiah for the second. Vieira’s movement is good, he’s sneaky fast, and he has that on-ball flair that can make something out of nothing. It was a really encouraging performance from him.
Gabriel Martinelli, who also had a really good game, set up Nketiah’s third. Matt Turner made the only big play asked of him, coming off his line really well to snuff out a breakaway chance for Oxford before their attacker had time to figure out what he wanted to do.
The only real blemish on the evening was that Bukayo Saka was subbed off in the 70th minute with what appeared to be a slight knock. He walked off under his own power on the far side of the pitch and was clapping the away fans as he made his way back to the bench. Hopefully it’s not serious. UPDATE: Mikel Arteta confirmed after the match that he’s fine.
Saka was replaced by Emile Smith Rowe, who returned to action for the first time since having groin surgery in late September. ESR nearly scored, too. He watched a deflected shot go just wide in the final 10 minutes of the match.
Sambi Lokonga put in a disappointing performance. Maybe it’s the lack of playing time with the first-choice players or maybe it’s because he just doesn’t have what it takes, but he’s quickly running out of chances to impress at Arsenal. He can pick a pass with the best of them, but it doesn’t seem like he plays / makes decisions quickly enough. To be fair, it was his shot that should have been given as a penalty — he took up a really good position to receive the ball from a Martinelli cutback.
The Gunners will face Manchester City at the Etihad in the FA Cup 4th Round.