DANIEL MATTHEWS: Arteta's faith rewarded as Vieira finally comes good

DANIEL MATTHEWS: Mikel Arteta’s faith is rewarded as Fabio Vieira finally comes good for Arsenal… with £30m summer signing setting up Mohamed Elneny and Eddie Nketiah goals in FA Cup win at Oxford

  • Vieira had failed to make much of an impression at Arsenal before Christmas 
  • And for an hour on Monday night it looked like another false start for him
  • But then two sumptuous strokes of his left foot broke the resistance of Oxford
  • His free-kick was headed home by Elneny before he played in Nketiah to score 

The crystal ball has been kind to Arsenal in recent times. Edu’s prophecy that this would be the season when the Gunners click into gear proved bang on. 

The evidence, meanwhile, continues to support Mikel Arteta’s forecast that Eddie Nketiah can ease the pain of Gabriel Jesus’ absence. So perhaps the smart money was always on Fabio Vieira to come good — as the manager foretold before this victory over Oxford.

It’s just a shame Arteta failed to mention that we might have to wait a little while longer. For an hour on Monday night, this looked like another false start from the £30million summer signing, who failed to make much of a dent before Christmas. 

Fabio Vieira set up goals by Mohamed Elneny and Eddie Nketiah in FA Cup win at Oxford

The 22-year-old had struggled with injury, started just eight matches and showed only flashes of quality. In that sense, this was more of the same.

For two-thirds of this win, it helped that Arsenal were decked in all-white. Otherwise you might have missed Vieira as he was shackled by League One opposition.

But then with two sumptuous strokes of his left foot, he found the head of Mohamed Elneny and then the feet of Nketiah. Suddenly the away end were chanting that famous name and Arteta looked to have called it right once more.

The 22-year-old midfielder finally showed his qualities after struggling with injury

The manager had insisted that the slight midfielder was now ‘physically’ ready to make his mark after injury robbed him of a proper pre-season. After the World Cup allowed him to make up for lost time.

There are few tests of mettle like a midwinter trip to the exposed surrounds of England’s lower leagues. At Oxford, the cold wind blows in through the open corners and the entire west end of the Kassam Stadium. And last night, the biting challenges came from all angles.

Vieira shimmied away from an early swipe from Cameron Brannagan. But Oxford got to him before long. One tussle left Vieira howling and limping. Another sent him crashing into the mud.

Vieira sent in a perfect free-kick for Elneny to direct a header into the net in the 63rd minute

Vieira’s on-the-ball offerings were no less agricultural during a dire first half. His 22 touches — fewer than all-but one Arsenal outfield player — included a loose pass towards his own box that almost gifted Oxford the game’s first opening. His charitable turnover led to the home side’s first sight of goal.

No Arsenal player was offering much quality, in fairness. But not many needed to like Vieira.

What with Arsenal’s title tilt exposing their thin squad.

Vieira then played a perfect pass for Arsenal striker Nketiah to finish calmly in the 70th minute

What with Arteta chasing attacking reinforcements.

What with Emile Smith Rowe returning to add more competition.

No wonder, then, that Vieira twice turned and pumped his fist towards the dugout — first after his free-kick found Elneny and then after his delightful pass allowed Nketiah to put Arsenal on course for the fourth round.

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