Eddie Nketiah scored a brace to help Arsenal produce one of the most comfortable football results of the weekend in the FA Cup. The Gunners will travel to the Etihad on the last weekend of January as a result of a considerably improved performance in the second half at the Kassam Stadium. During a sluggish first half in which Mikel Arteta’s squad failed to create a single chance on goal, Oxford frustrated the Premier League leaders. However, Mohamed Elneny’s first goal of the season 10 minutes into the second half gave them the advantage. Then, Nketiah sealed Arsenal’s passage into the next round by maintaining his impressive goal-scoring form with two composed finishes that breached Oxford’s staunch defense.
Arsenal entered their match against League One team Oxford having won 19 of their 24 games so far this season, despite making seven changes from the disheartening 0-0 home stalemate with Newcastle. They also selected a strong XI. However, Oxford, who are 14th in the third division, kept the Gunners at bay remarkably well in the first half and gave no indication that they were the arrogant squad who had established a five-point lead at the top of the Premier League. The only moment of concern came when Elliott Moore’s arm blocked Albert Sambi Lokonga’s shot in the box, but referee David Coote disregarded Arsenal’s pleas and there was no use of VAR to overturn his decision.
Lewis Bate’s goal-saving clearance of Bukayo Saka’s shot during the second half likely made Arteta feel better about his side’s effort after the interval. Arteta was undoubtedly dissatisfied with what he saw from his team during the first half. Elneny’s header from Fabio Vieira’s alluring free-kick helped to finally settle their nerves, and the Portuguese midfielder then claimed another assist when Nketiah was set up by his excellent through pass and went around goalkeeper Edward McGinty to slide the ball home.
Nketiah then scored his sixth goal in as many games to seal the victory, which was a big benefit for Arsenal given Gabriel Jesus’ injury. After the game, the manager assuaged fears over Saka’s fitness despite the forward limping out before Sunday’s pivotal North London derby at Tottenham. Emile Smith Rowe gave Arteta another cause to rejoice by making his first outing since having groyne surgery in September.
“He had undoubtedly been looking forward to this time. He’s been patient when it was necessary, but he’s also been in the right frame of mind and getting ready for this,” Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta said. “That is why, in my opinion, he appears prepared and is acting in the manner that he is. He displayed excellent poise. He’s a fantastic finisher, as evidenced by the timing of his runs and the judgment he displayed in waiting until the keeper was committed. His comprehension and productivity both seem to be improving.”
“The fact that the ball was in play, regardless of whether it was a free-kick or not, is what makes them Premier League players. In the middle of the second half, we lost command of the game,” Oxford manager Karl Robinson said. “The players, in my opinion, did the club proud. We fought everywhere. They didn’t appear to be a team that was so dissimilar from the other squad. We have talented athletes. This is the first time my team—which is arguably the strongest—has competed. We have a strong team that is interesting to watch and has a strong squad.”
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