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Highbury Memories

We talk to the last Manager to lead the U's against Arsenal

5 January 2023

Oxford United take on Arsenal at the Kassam Stadium on Monday night looking to cause one of the FA Cup’s greatest ever upsets.

It’s the first time the clubs have met since the U’s travelled to Highbury in January 2003, losing 2-0 in front of 35,000 fans.

We caught up with Ian Atkins, the Oxford Manager that day and asked him what it was like to lead the U’s on such a huge occasion?


“It was a fantastic day” he told us with a huge grin. “I knew Eddie Niezwiecki the Arsenal Goalkeeping Coach and he helped me get Martin Keown’s shirt and a team sheet signed by all the Arsenal players. They are framed and on display in my house now and a nice reminder of that day.

“We played Swindon in the round before and the atmosphere was electric. Oxford were used to those big games but hadn’t had one for a while and when Jefferson Louis scored the ground erupted. After the game I was doing TV when the draw was made for the next round but there was also a camera in the dressing room which Jefferson, who is an Arsenal fan, didn’t know was there. So I was watching the monitors and could see him dancing around naked in the dressing room when the draw was made. Unfortunately he didn’t know that the rest of the world could see him too!

“The day itself, we did loads of work in advance, like we always did. I was Manager at Carlisle when Arsenal came to play us in the cup a couple of years before and only beat us 1-0 and that helped with the planning

“We were very organised and by the time we were going to Highbury we knew for example that Pires always came inside and Van Bronckhorst went round him on the left, but the right side stayed conventional. So we knew all about how they would set up and we were excellent against them.


“I always remember two chances. Steve Basham scored but the flag was up for offside - he wasn’t actually. And then Andy Scott ran clear with only the keeper to beat and missed the chance. I can still see it now. You will always create two or three chances, whoever you play against, but those didn’t go our way and then Arsenal got a corner and the ball hit Scott McNiven and went in. He has an outsized head and I think it went in off that!

“But afterwards Arsene Wenger was very kind and said how impressed he was by the way we set up and how hard we worked. I think we were pleased with the way we performed that day and I know the fans had a good day. It was freezing cold but they filled the away end and were superb. I was very proud that day.


“Financially the club made a lot of money from it. We had big crowds against Villa and Reading in the League Cup over the previous couple of seasons plus we were doing ever so well in the league with a real chance of going up. I wanted to sign Lee Bradbury to add to the attack and Jim Smith, who was at Portsmouth, had sorted out a great deal for us, but sadly it wasn’t to be and in the end promotion slipped away from us. But I still look back at that season and the Arsenal game in particular with real fondness.

“It will be a great evening on Monday, I’m sure, and Oxford are in a better position now than we were so I am sure they will give it a real go. I’d love to see them cause an upset and I’ll definitely be watching and hoping they can do it.”

There is a double length ‘On the Road’ article looking at that trip to Highbury from a different side, in the matchday programme on Monday, available to pre-order RIGHT HERE


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