Oxford United 0 – 3 Arsenal – Match Report (035)

An unsurprising seven changes from the side that grew 0 – 0 to Newcastle, Matt Turner made his first start since October and Emile Smith Rowe came on from the bench for the first time since September, a huge relief to see. We played Oxford United away in the fourth round of the FA Cup in our white kit as part of the ‘No More Red’ initiative to take a stand against knife crime, a ‘cursed’ kit which saw us knocked out of the same competition on the same day last year to Nottingham Forest. 

The first half was incredibly frustrating and underwhelming. Slowly but surely the game started to settle down and Arsenal B managed to link a few passes together. Tomiyasu had an early chance but it was easily claimed by the Oxford goalkeeper, McGinty. There was not a lot of drama, a few physical challenges on Saka and Tomiyasu, otherwise we just knocked the ball around without any real drive or determination to put the ball in the back of the net. The best chance of the first half came from Eddie, who hit the ball just over the crossbar from close range in a very crowded box.

In the second half, Eddie had a chance which he didn’t capitalise on, and then it was Turner’s turn to be alert to deny Taylor as he came rushing off of his line to claim his ball. After an hour of unsatisfactory football from Arteta’s perspective, he sent on the reinforcements; Xhaka replaced Lokonga and Zinchenko for Tierney. The dynamic totally changed after this substitution as we suddenly looked much more of a threat.

It only took Arteta’s substitutions to make an impact. Vieira took a free kick after Martinelli was fouled and swung in a beautiful cross to set up Elneny, who scored a bullet header. He enjoyed his moment and celebrated in front of the away fans. 

The goal seemed to make the youthful side a lot calmer, and Eddie doubled our lead only seven minutes later. He calmly rounded the keeper to put the ball in the back of the net of an open goal. As recently as two seasons ago, Eddie would likely have panicked and missed this shot, so it was a real credit to his development and maturity this season. This marked Vieira’s second assist of the night, a definite player waiting to burst out.

A lot of fans were worried as Saka picked up a knock and was promptly replaced by Emile Smith Rowe. Arteta has since confirmed that Saka is fine, and it is an exciting prospect to see the duo back together on the pitch again. Martinelli then set up Eddie to make the score 3 – 0. Eddie has been immense since Jesus’ injury, with four goals in four starts since the World Cup, rewarding Arteta’s faith in him in the summer. Smith Rowe almost scored on his return but the shot was deflected and went just wide. 

The first half in particular was difficult to watch. The midfield in particular were lacklustre and really highlighted the importance of our lack of squad depth in that area; if Partey or Xhaka were to get injured we would find ourselves in a very tricky situation, and it is clear Arteta knows this as Partey didn’t set foot on the pitch. One big shock for me was that Saliba was left back in London. The Frenchman has not been playing like his usual self since his lack of game time at the World Cup and this would have been the perfect opportunity to get some game time and get back to himself, but it was Gabriel that started instead, the only one of the usual four starters in the Premier League.

Next up in the FA Cup we play Manchester City in a trip to the Etihad. Psychologically, this will be a massive game as it is the first time the two side will meet this season, but if history repeats itself and we beat City we will be on track to win the FA Cup, but let’s not jinx it! In the Premier League, we play Spurs in the second North London Derby of the season, this time taking the short trip to White Hart Lane. Personally, I’m hopeful for a victory, despite our abysmal track record away to Spurs, but at this point even a draw would feel disappointing. 

Written by: Abby Goodson (@_abbygoodson)

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