Arsenal 2 Oxford United 0: Unspectacular, but satisfactory.

Last updated : 05 January 2003 By Brian Dawes

Gilberto lookalike Sebastian Svard getting stuck in
The Oxford side that came out to play on Highbury's lush turf failed to realise this, in fact the FA would be perfectly within their rights to charge them with failing to appear at a Cup-tie.

Our line up saw Oleg in at right back, Matty joining Martin at the back and Gio slotting in at left back. Kolo and Bob were the wide men with Edu and young Svard in central midfield. Up front Dennis was joined by Francis Jeffers. Stepanovs, Taylor, Gilberto, Wiltord and David Bentley wearing the 35 shirt comprised our bench.

We kicked off towards the North Stand and 14 passes later Oxford got their first touch. Oxford netting early in the game from a blatantly offside position and that was as much excitement as their fans got all day. If this game is to be remembered for anything at all it will be for Dennis Bergkamp's 100th goal for Arsenal and a promising debut for the eighteen-year-old David Bentley who the crowd took to immediately he had his first touch, this lad looks to be the biz.

Kolo was lively and had our first shot of note with a low drive that whistled past the far post for a corner. Jeffers made numerous good runs, had loads of half chances and brought other players into the game well with some neat touches and tidy glanced headers. It wasn't long before our passing game was denying Oxford the ball and the lynchpin was Edu more often than not. Much of the play flowed through our Brazilian but Svard also looked perfectly at home in midfield and played his part.

On the quarter hour Dennis Bergkamp scored his 100th goal when Oleg hit a low ball in from the right that Svard dummied leaving it to run to Jeffers. Francis turned well in the box and flicked a great little ball through to Dennis who controlled well, taking it forward before dinking it past the keeper with the outside of his right foot. 1-0 Arsenal game over. After this it was a totally one-sided exhibition of the training ground pass and move variety.

We didn't really up the tempo but we didn't need to. Oxford covered well enough and worked reasonably hard but they were basically clueless about how to make any impact on the match. Pires and Jeffers combined to give Dennis an opportunity. Jeffers fired into the side netting but mostly we just looked in control without looking particularly dangerous. Mr Wilkes refereed instead of D'Urso as originally advertised. He missed a very obvious handball by Waterman but at least his assistant picked up on it.

Great one-two between Kolo and Rob but Kolo's wicked cross had no-one on the end of it. Slick move followed slick move. Edu put Jeffers through but his low left foot shot was saved with ease by Woodman. Another fine Edu ball saw Jeffers make another great run but his flick over the keeper this time was also just over the bar. Svard showed his skill in setting up Edu for a shot.

Francis Jeffers shoots past David Waterman
Brilliant play by Edu bemused a couple of Oxford players and another cross, this one from Jeffers found no Arsenal player in sight. Twenty plus passes in another controlled move ended with Dennis heading over from a tasty angled cross from Gio. Oxford's first shot of the game had McNiven aiming for row Z in the Clock End. Oleg found Jeffers whose header was cleared for a corner. Another more difficult header from a Gio cross saw Jeffers flick it wide with his back to goal. The half-time score was 1-0, in game that was a non contest so far. The difference between the two teams was summed up by the Oxford fans who got really excited when they won a rare throw-in in our half

Nothing changed after the break although Crosby fell over on the side of our penalty area and was awarded a free kick. The kick came to nothing. A good corner from Bob with no one in the right place to capitalise before Kolo was chopped down on a run and Ford found himself in the book. Jeffers won one of our numerous corners from a Bergkamp through ball. Oldfield was replaced by Jefferson Lewis who has been an Arsenal fan from the age of eight and was hugely disappointed that he wouldn't be able to get hold of Henry's shirt at the end of this game. Just for the record he got Rob's shirt instead. Why Lewis didn't start is a mystery because for me he was their most effective player.

Robinson did a nothing tackle on Kolo and earned a nothing booking from Wilkes who was a good thirty yards away when it happened. It's not often the home fans boo the ref for an opponent being booked, but they did for this one. Great break away by Kolo down the middle, he steamed forward well, had Dennis left and Franny right but just ran into Oxford's defence when either pass was on. A badly wasted chance. Scott on for Savage to the inevitable cry's of 'Who?'

Keown was not enamoured with a Basham challenge. Oxford had their first move of note but Arsenal merely used it as a chance for a rare counter attack. Oxford fans kept the ball when it went into the Clock End. In fact they kept hold of it for far longer than their team had at any point in the game. Our second goal came from a corner, which we didn't really celebrate because we were not entirely sure if the goal had been given. Kolo went up with a crowd of players who all landed in a muddled heap. The ball appeared to be deflected on its way over the line and the net result was that when everyone was picked up off the floor we were 2-0 ahead and McNiven had been credited with an own goal on the big screen.

Martin Keown and Jefferson Louis compete in the air
Their best, maybe only, chance came with a close header from Scott that Seaman held with ease. Great move from Pires and Bergkamp that was fired over from an angle. Jeffers shoved in the back, nothing given. Poor cross from Jeffers. Ford shot one at our corner flag at the other end. David Bentley on for Toure. Gilberto on for Svard. Dennis hit by a red card challenge from behind by Waterman, the only bad tackle of the match, just a yellow card was shown. Bentley showed us some fantastic close control down the right wing. Wiltord replaced Dennis. Bentley set the crowd buzzing with some more majestic play. Difficult to describe the kid because he seems to be a one off but a sort of right-footed George Eastham with pace springs to mind.

Good run by Louis the Gooner. Steele on for Basham. Wiltord tried a first time effort with his left. Edu shot wide with Jeffers in a prime position to score. Pires set up Sylvain instead of shooting, which looked the better option. An Oxford shot from range dribbled past our corner flag. Pires played a one-two with Edu, then looked to be tripped in the box but we didn't get anything from Wilkes. Bentley set up Wiltord but it ended 2-0. A win is a win in the Cup and in this one-sided non-event any real pleasure came from Dennis netting his 100th goal and Bentley's fine debut.

Arsenal fans applauded Oxford off the pitch at the end but it's hard to figure out quite why, they were never in the game and didn't battle that hard. The match was far more like a testimonial that a 3rd Round Cup-tie. I've been typing up this report as Tottenham are having their Cup run, not to mention season, ended by Southampton, it ended 4-0 to the Saints. Sometimes the Cup can be really great fun.