Eddie Nketiah struck twice in the second half to help Arsenal to a comfortable 3-0 win at Oxford United and set up an enticing FA Cup fourth-round clash at Manchester City.
The Gunners will travel to the Etihad on the final weekend of January thanks to a vastly-improved performance during the second 45 minutes at the Kassam Stadium.
Mikel Arteta’s side failed to record a single shot on target during a drab first half as Oxford frustrated the Premier League leaders, but Mohamed Elneny set them on their way 10 minutes into the second period with his first goal of the season.
Nketiah then confirmed Arsenal’s progress into the fourth round as he continued his impressive form in front of goal with two composed finishes that ended Oxford’s stubborn resistance.
Oxford: McGinty (5), Anderson (6), Moore (6), Long (6), Brown (6), Bate (6), Brannagan (6), Murphy (6), McGuane (6), Bodin (7), Taylor (6).
Subs: Wildschut (6), O’Donkor (6), Goodrham (7), Fleming (n/a), Johnson (n/a).
arsenal: Turner (7), Tomiyasu (7), Holding (7), Gabriel (7), Tierney (7), Lokonga (6), Elneny (7), Vieira (8), Saka (7), Martinelli (7), Nketiah (9).
Subs: Zinchenko (6), Xhaka (6), Smith Rowe (6), White (n/a), Marquinhos (n/a).
Player of the match: Eddie Nketiah
Nketiah continues sparkling form while Vieira shines
Arsenal went into their game against League One side Oxford having won 19 of their 24 matches this season and named a strong XI, despite making seven changes from the frustrating 0-0 home draw with Newcastle.
But the Gunners looked nothing like the swaggering side that have opened up a five-point lead at the top of the Premier League, with Oxford – who are 14th in the third tier – holding them at bay with relative ease during the first half.
- Oxford made two changes, with Murphy and Bodin replacing Goodrham and Wildschut
- Arsenal made seven alterations, with Turner, Tomiyasu, Holding, Tierney, Elneny, Lokonga and Vieira replacing Ramsdale, White, Saliba, Zinchenko, Xhaka, Partey and Odegaard
- Saka, Martinelli and Nketiah kept their places in the front three, while Smith Rowe started on the bench
The only moment of danger came when Elliott Moore blocked Albert Sambi Lokonga’s shot with his arm in the area, but referee David Coote waved away Arsenal’s claims – and there was no VAR in operation to overturn his call.
Arteta was unlikely to have been pleased with what he saw from his side and was no doubt relieved to see them wake from their slumber after half-time, with Bukayo Saka seeing a shot cleared off the line by Lewis Bate.
Elneny’s header from Fabio Vieira’s inviting free-kick finally settled their nerves, and the Portuguese midfielder then claimed another assist when his sumptuous through ball set up Nketiah, who rounded goalkeeper Edward McGinty before sliding the ball home.
Nketiah then claimed his fifth goal in as many games – a huge bonus for Arsenal given Gabriel Jesus’ injury – with a delightful dinked finish to seal the victory.
Emile Smith Rowe provided Arteta with another reason to cheer by coming off the bench to make his first appearance since September following groin surgery, while the manager allayed fears over Saka’s fitness after the final whistle, despite the forward limping off ahead of the huge North London derby at Tottenham on Sunday, live on Sky Sports.
Arteta: Saka is ‘fine’ | ‘Nketiah is a great finisher’
Saka went down twice at the Kassam Stadium, eventually coming off to be replaced by Smith Rowe in the 75th minute after receiving treatment on the field, but Arteta insisted he has no concerns over the England international’s fitness.
“He is fine,” said the Arsenal boss, who now has five days to prepare his side to face Tottenham.
Arteta also spoke about Nketiah’s form, adding: “Obviously he’s been waiting for this moment.
“He’s been patient when he needed to be but as well he’s been with the right mindset and preparing himself for this moment.
“That’s why I think he looks ready and why he’s performing the way he is. He showed great composure.
“He’s a great finisher, the timing of his runs and the decision-making in waiting until the last moment when the keeper was committed shows his quality.
“His understanding, his work-rate, I think he’s getting better and better.”
Robinson: My players did club proud
Oxford boss Karl Robinson said his players “did the club proud” with their display against the Premier League leaders, while he questioned the awarding of the free-kick from which Arsenal opened the scoring.
Gabriel Martinelli went down to win what looked to be a soft foul, and Robinson told BTI: “Question mark on if it was a free-kick or not, but the ball in is the reason why they are Premier League players.”
He added: “We lost control of the game in the central part of the second half.
“From my point of view, the players did the club proud. We fought in all areas. They didn’t look like a team so far apart from the other team.
“We have good players. It is the first time I have had probably my strongest team to compete. We have a good squad, a good team – one that is full of energy and exciting to watch.”
Oxford United’s next game sees them return to League One action with a trip to Fleetwood on Saturday – kick-off 3pm.
Arsenal’s next out is the North London derby, with the Gunners traveling to Tottenham for a crucial Premier League fixture on Sunday, live on Sky Sports – kick-off 4.30pm.
Mikel Arteta’s side then face another huge Premier League test against Manchester United on Sunday January 22, live on Sky Sports – kick-off 4.30pm.