Eddie Nketiah bagged a brace as we booked our place in the fourth round of the FA Cup by beating Oxford United.
We had to be patient to claim victory though after a stubborn first half showing by our opponents, but Mohamed Elneny’s header just after the hour mark helped ease any nerves.
That provided the platform for Nketiah to continue his excellent run of form, as he netted two well-taken goals to take his tally to four in his four outings since the World Cup break, and set up a meeting with Manchester City in the next round.
First half frustrations
Mikel Arteta paid respect to our League One opponents by naming a strong team packed with first-choice attacking talent, but despite all that quality in the final third, the Oxford defence held strong throughout a first half lacking in goalmouth action.
The U’s were lively in the opening stages and put us under plenty of pressure on the edge of our box without coming close to testing Matt Turner, but we began to grow into the game and soon began racking up possession, but also struggled to work our way through a well-organised side.
Indeed it took 34 minutes for the first real shooting opportunity to fall our way, which came when Gabriel Martinelli found Sambi Lonkonga lurking unmarked inside the area, and he pulled the trigger. With the ball flashing goalwards, skipper Elliott Moore put in a diving block and the shot struck his hand. With no VAR to fall back on and David Coote unmoved, our appeals fell on deaf ears and only received a corner.
The only other sight of goal for either team came eight minutes later when Eddie Nketiah latched onto a cross from the left and poked a half-chance wide amongst a congested penalty area, meaning Oxford departed down the tunnel buoyed by their defensive display in the opening 45 minutes.
Goals finally flow
After the restart, our tempo was higher and we immediately began causing more problems for our opponents. Fabio Vieira began to find himself in the thick of the action, and a superb run forward allowed him to pick out Bukayo Saka who forced the ball past Eddie McGinty but Lewis Bate was on hand to clear it off the line.
But on 64 minutes, the breakthrough finally arrived and the Portuguese midfielder was once again heavily involved. He whipped a delightful free-kick into the area which was begging to be dispatched, and Elneny was more than happy to do so with his head, giving McGinty no chance.
That goal seemingly broke the resilience of the hosts, and just seven minutes later we doubled our advantage. Elneny won the ball back in midfield and found Vieira, who threaded an inch-perfect pass into the path of Nketiah, who raced through the backline, rounded the goalkeeper and tapped home.
And on 76 minutes, the striker showed more excellent composure to add his second and our third of the night. After winning possession on the halfway line, he allowed Martinelli to counter, and the Brazilian in turn waited for the right moment to hand the ball back to the striker who dinked it beautifully over the outstretched McGinty to put us into round four.
A good night got better when Emile Smith Rowe entered the fray for the final 15 minutes, and he nearly marked his comeback with a goal when another counter-attack found its way over to him at the back post but saw his effort deflect just wide.
We head across north London on Sunday for our second derby day of the season against Tottenham Hotspur, before taking on Manchester United a week later. Following that will be our fourth round tie with their neighbours City, which is scheduled to be played between 27-30 January.
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