After the disappointment of last season’s humiliating FA Cup exit to Nottingham Forest (A defeat that will forever live on in glorious 4K on Amazon Prime, courtesy of their All or Nothing documentary series), Arsenal were keen to set the record straight this season.
Kitted, as they were last season, in all white to support the #NoMoreRed initiative to help end knife crime, Arsenal made several changes from the side that drew with Newcastle.
Matt Turner, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Rob Holding, Kieran Tierney, Mohamed Elneny, Albert Sambi Lokonga and Fábio Vieira were all drafted in to the starting eleven, with Cédric Soares once again missing out from the squad ahead of a potential transfer.
An away tie at a packed League One side was always going to be a tricky game and Oxford were not about to make it any easier for Mikel Arteta’s men.
The first-half flew by, generally without much incident. Arsenal created chances, but none really troubled Edward McGinty.
A handballs hout at the end of the first-half was waved away by the officials. Upon closer inspection of a replay, its easy to see why it was not given. The defender had simply tried to block a left-footed shot from Albert Sambi Lokonga, but the ball had hit his supporting arm.
Oxofred went in at half-time the happier of the two sides.
The second-half seemed to bring out more of the same from Arsenal. The rustiness of those who do not play regularly seemed to be showing through and they were decidedly less keen to take the brave attacking option, opting instead for a backwards or sideways pass.
However, after a foul on Fábio Vieira, Arsenal were handed a free-kick in a deadly position. Vieira delivered the free-kick with exceptional quality, which was headed into the back of the net by Mohamed Elneny.
From there, Arsenal looked to be in total control.
Oxford began to tire and, soon enough, Arsenal began to take further advantage.
A quick and incisive Arsenal counter-attack was finished off with a spectacular through-ball from Vieira which was met by Eddie Nketiah, who rounded the goalkeeper and slotted home Arsenal’s second.
The scoring wasn’t over there though.
This time it was Gabriel Martinelli’s turn to turn provider. The Brazilian fed Nketiah once more, who saw the goalkeeper go to ground and impudently dinked the ball just over the Irish keeper’s frame to round off the scoring for 0-3.
The introduction of Emile Smith Rowe will undoubtedly give Arsenal fans something to be happy about and the Hale End graduate almost added a fourth for Arsenal at the end of the match, but a deflection put it inches wide.
The final whistle rang out as Arsenal booked their place in round four of the FA Cup.
It was hardly vintage Arsenal, but Arsenal will be happy with the outcome. A 0-3 away win against tough opposition ahead of the north London derby will always be welcome.
There was still a feeling of anti-climax from many who played, however.
The performances of Fábio Vieira and Albert Sambi Lokonga stood out in particular.
Vieira’s performance notably improved in the second-half, but that will not entirely erase the poor performance of the first. The Portuguese looked decedly lightweight and was bundled off the ball far too many times.
This is not the first time that Vieira’s physicality has come into question. It’s no wonder that Mikel Arteta did not opt to bring him on in the team’s 0-0 draw with Newcastle; though he did notably redeem himself with two excellent assists and a much stronger second-half performance.
As for Albert Sambi Lokonga, it seems to be a Groundhog Day performance from the young Belgian. Lokonga once again failed to grab the opportunity that was given to him in midfield and struggled to impose himself on the game.
Of course, allowances have to be made, considering that Lokonga has not played a senior game for some time, so elements of rustiness are to be expected.
Despite this, Lokonga looked woefully out of his depth in midfield and failed to contribute much of anything to the team and was unsurprisingly subbed out for Granit Xhaka after 62 minutes.
A tricky trip to Manchester City is Arsenal’s reward for their victory, but for now, Arsenal have their sites set elsewhere.
Wrapping up a deal for Shakhtar Donetsk winger Mykhailo Mudryk is Edu’s number-one priority, while Mikel Arteta’s focus switches to the very tough away game at Tottenham Hotspur for the north London derby.
Oxford United team:
21.) Edward McGinty
33.) Djavan Anderson
5.) Eliott Moore (c)
2.) Sam Long
16.) Ciaron Brown (Fleming 83’)
14.) Lewis Bate
8.) Cameron Brannagan
23.) Josh Murphy (Wildschut 61’)
18.) Marcus McGuane (Johnson 83’)
7.) Billy Bodin (Goodrham 76’)
9.) Matty Taylor (O’Donkor 76’)
Oxford United subs:
13.) Simon Eastwood
3.) Brandon Fleming
28.) Stephan Negru
4.) Stuart Findlay
32.) Yoav Sade
24.) Joshua Johnson
27.) Tyler Goodrham
30.) Yanic Wildschut
39.) Gatlin O’Donker
30.) Matt Turner
18.) Takehiro Tomiyasu (White 80’)
16.) Rob Holding (c)
6.) Gabriel Magalhães
3.) Kieran Tierney (Zinchenko 60’)
25.) Mohamed Elneny
23.) Albert Sambi Lokonga (Xhaka 62’)
21.) Fábio Vieira (Marquinhos 82’)
7.) Bukayo Saka (Smith Rowe 74’)
11.) Gabriel Martinelli
14.) Eddie Nketiah
31.) Karl Jakob Hein
4.) Benjamin White
35.) Oleksandr Zinchenko
5.) Thomas Partey
34.) Granit Xhaka
8.) Martin Ødegaard
10.) Emile Smith Rowe
43.) Nathan Butler-Oyedeji