This has always been my favourite weekend of the footballing calendar – its the third round of the FA Cup, where minnows meet the big teams, stars have to play on boggy pitches, and the odd big side gets unceremoniously dumped out by a bunch of players you’ve never heard of, and never will again.
In reality, the days of the non-league glory teams are gone – more often than not, when they draw a Premiership side at home, they switch it for understandable financial reasons and lose, albeit honourably. But today Harrow and Waterlooville kept the flag flying, gaining a late draw at Swansea, who are dominating League One. Nice work.
The fun ties to watch occur when a Premiership team travels to the form side of the Championship or League One. As a result, a trip to Burnley would’ve been a nightmare for Arsenal a month ago, but the Championship promotion chasers have stuttered badly of late, and Wenger will be confident of keeping alive his record of never losing to a lower league side.
Elsewhere, they’re dropping like flies. Our conquerors last season, Blackburn, got hammered at home to Coventry, while Everton and Bolton surprisingly lost at home, and Birmingham also exited to a team outside the Premiership.
Sunderland lost to Wigan, while Spurs and Reading face a replay, along with West Ham and Man City. United knocked Villa out, so at least seven Premiership sides will go out in the third round. More are in danger tomorrow.
All of which is fantastic news for those that remain. To be amongst those, a much changed Arsenal side will need to be careful – Burnley, despite their recent form, are a decent side, and will look to use this match to turn their fortunes around.
The Ivory Coast haven’t enforced the early call ups of Toure and Eboue, so they can both play, while Lehmann makes what will probably be his last appearance in goal. His move back to Dortmund seems to have stuttered over his wage demands, a bizarre problem given how close he is to the end of his career – surely at this point only first team football would matter?
Elsewhere, much of the first team will take a break, which may be extended with the Carling Cup in midweek, earning them a decent rest before the Premiership kicks off again next weekend.
Many think this match will be easy. I honestly don’t – expect a tight one tomorrow. I wouldn’t even be surprised if it went to a replay.