Oxford United (0) 0 Arsenal (0) 3
FA Cup Third Round
The Kassam Stadium, Grenoble Road, Littlemore, Oxford OX4 4XP
Monday, 9th January 2023. Kick-off time: 8.00pm
(4-3-3) Matt Turner; Takehiro Tomiyasu, Rob Holding, Gabriel Magalhães, Kieran Tierney; Fabio Vieira, Mohamed Elneny, Albert Sambi Lokonga; Bukayo Saka, Eddie Nketiah, Gabriel Martinelli.
Substitutes: Ben White, Thomas Partey, Martin Ødegaard, Emile Smith-Rowe, (Marcus Vinicius Oliveira Alencar) Marquinhos, Karl Hein, Granit Xhaka, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Nathan Butler-Oyedeji.
Scorers: Mohamed Elneny (63 mins), Eddie Nketiah (70 mins, 75 mins)
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 64%
Referee: David Coote
Assistant Referees: Lee Betts, Timothy Wood
Fourth Official: Michael Salisbury
VAR and goal-line technology will not be in operation for this match.
As we may unfortunately recall, having suffered a shock exit at this stage of the competition last season at the hands of Nottingham Forest, it has been twenty-seven years since we last experienced FA Cup Third Round elimination in successive seasons, so we do not wish to leave this illustrious competition tonight, especially as we hold the record for most wins in the FA Cup, of course. The winners of tonight’s match will meet Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium in the Fourth Round at an unscheduled date sometime between Friday 27th and Monday 30th January. Mikel Arteta has made seven changes for this game tonight, with Gabriel, Eddie Nketiah, Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli being the only players which retain their places in the side from last week’s draw with Newcastle United at the Emirates. It is also heartening to see Emile Smith-Rowe is back on the bench tonight after four months sidelined due to a groin injury. Arsenal are wearing the all-white kit tonight in support of the No More Red anti-knife crime campaign in London.
The home side got the match underway, and the opening exchanges were quite lively with both teams showing good intent to win on a very wet and heavy pitch. We were finding it a problem trying to play our usual game in the early stages of the match, due to the pitch, but there were odd flashes of brilliance here and there; just after Bukayo Saka showed his unhappiness as the linesman flagged for a foul against him as he was leaning onto Ciaron Brown from a long ball in behind the left-back, we had two corners awarded to us in quick succession as a superb Kieran Tierney cross was blocked and went over the by-line. The initial corner was cleared, before Fabio Vieira’s cross was deflected out of play again. The home side cleared the ball, and after they kicked it out of play, Kieran Tierney dried the ball on a towel before launching a long throw into the penalty area. It almost dropped for Bukayo Saka at the back post but it was kicked clear by an Oxford United defender. Generally, as far as we are concerned, this match is a classic case of one step forwards, two steps back, sadly. So far we have not created a clearcut chance, so much so, that Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey are up off the Arsenal bench and are warming up on the sidelines. With six minutes of the first half remaining, we had a shooting opportunity courtesy of Albert Sambi Lokonga, and his left-footed drive was blocked by a sliding Elliott Moore tackle. It did hit his left arm, but he was using it to support his body as he went to the ground, which is allowed in the rules, of course. Our players surrounded referee David Coote, but he is not going to give a penalty here. A few minutes later, David Coote blew the whistle for half time, and although we have dominated the play, we were still unable to score.
We kicked off proceedings for the second half, and almost immediately, Eddie Nketiah had the chance to feed in either Gabriel Martinelli or Fabio Vieira but took the chance himself; sadly the subsequent corner was completely wasted by us. Gabriel Martinelli had a good chance to open the scoring a few minutes later, but Elliott Moore blocked his shot. Ten minutes after the restart, Bukayo Saka whip[ed in a wicked corner, right under Edward McGinty, who was under pressure from Takehiro Tomiyasu, but the Oxford keeper did well to punch it behind for another corner, which went nowhere again. On the hour, Granit Xhaka and Oleksandr Zinchenko replaced Albert Sambi Lokonga and Kieran Tierney, and our pressure on the Oxford goal continued. After sixty-three minutes, we finally took the lead when a Fabio Vieira free-kick from the left was headed in at close range by Mohamed Elneny, which was his first goal since May 2021; a deep sigh of relief went around the Arsenal supporters in the stadium at that moment. The goal certainly zipped us up somewhat, as our passing became crisper and our desire was there for all to see. With twenty minutes of the match remaining, we grabbed our second goal of the night in which Mohamed Elneny and Fabio Vieira were involved again. The former nipped through the defence for the latter, and he threaded beautifully in behind for Eddie Nketiah to gather the ball, go around goalkeper Edward McGinty and slotted it into the empty net for our second of the night. Shortly afterwards, Emile Smith-Rowe replaced an injured Bukayo Saka, to much applause by our supporters. The 22-year-old midfielder has not played since the Manchester United match on 4th September, and it is mighty good to see him return. A minute or so later, Gabriel Martinelli played a really neat ball through for Eddie Nketiah, who just timed his run to perfection, and he simply nicked the ball over Edward McGinty as he came out of his goal to confront the Arsenal man, to score our third goal of the night. We nearly scored another one a minute or so later when Emile Smith-Rowe, who found himself one-on-one at the back post, but his poor first touch was deflected behind for a corner. With eight minutes of the match remaining, Ben White and Marquinhos replaced Takehiro Tomiyasu and Fabio Vieira. The home side started to create one or two chances towards the end of the game, but their chances did not amount to much, really. Oleksandr Zinchenko had an opportunity to score on the ninetieth minute, but his shot went wildly over the bar, and in the two minutes injury time, the match went rather flat, and when the referee brought matters to an end, it was more of a sense of relief for all, really.
Despite a sluggish and lacklustre first half, our class showed in the second half, and the nature of our goals and the scoreline reflected that. Eddie Nketiah, Mohamed Elneny and Fabio Vieira played exceptionally well, and it was good to see Emile Smith-Rowe’s comeback go through without a hitch. Manchester City lie in wait for us in the fourth round, but before that, there is the small matter of the North London derby on Sunday afternoon against our “friends” from N17. Exciting times ahead!
Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as this season is going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Our next match: Tottenham Hotspur at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Sunday, 15th January at 4.30pm (Premier League). Be there, if you can. Victoria Concordia Crescit.
Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon