The romance of the cup is alive and kicking. Not too hard, the merest hint of contact will leave one Joseph Barton, esquire, crumpled in a heap on the floor. The hard man exposed as quite the opposite.
Congratulations to Lincoln City and yes, even Millwall, for the victories yesterday, sending Premier League opposition out of the cup. For Burnley, it’s nothing new, of course. Wimbledon – the original club – sent them packing from the FA Cup forty-one years ago. I have to say that while I remember the result, the game escapes my memory.
Mention Dickie Guy’s name and the image of him on The Big Match, his hands in position to catch the ball in close-up, underneath Brian Moore’s voiceover extolling the virtues of his performance against Leeds. It’s old fart time, I’m afraid, as I recall there really hasn’t been a better way to let your Sunday roast digest than an hour of highlights of three of the previous day’s games.
Ratings will always beat romance though, hence Manchester United’s 4,312th consecutive FA Cup tie being screened this afternoon. Blackburn away might, on paper, be shock-fodder but in truth, it’s going to be Dullsville, Arizona as United look to throttle the life out of the game and your will to live.
Perhaps Fulham will give us the third shock of the round – these things come in threes, don’t they? – which will deflate any superstitious Sutton players thoughts. Not that there’s much coverage of the game in the papers at the moment, it’s all about Arsène and his “four more years! four more years!” plan.
Why not? I mean, the fightback; is he supposed to just sit there and take it? Jebus, I hope the players shown this much fight in the rest of the season rather than the supine second-half performance in Munich.
Romance Of The Cup
Not that Arsène is contemplating many changes as a result of that. Quite the opposite, he said on Friday,
“I always had in my head that it was a very important game,” said the boss. “In my head I have had a team that will start and play there, for a week or 10 days now. That result we had at Bayern Munich will not influence that selection.”
As ever, it’s open to interpretation. It will be a “normal team” which can mean anything. I’d argue that the players who performed so woefully in the second half need to go out and play as a punishment, instead of having a fortnight off. The rest brought on by the quirk of the fixture list with next week’s EFL Cup final is the same as an international break, with a meaning less game thrown in for good measure. Surely it will be christened the “EFL lull” – Extended Failure Lay-off…
It’s not punishment, of course, but Arsenal are in a ‘no-win’ situation off the pitch. They can only come out of the game with varying degrees of criticism ringing in their ears. Win 1 – 0 and ‘plucky Sutton’ gets lost in criticism of our performance. 10 – 0 is ‘flat-track bullies’ territory, and, ‘what did you expect’.
Maybe playing the ‘normal’ cup team isn’t such a bad idea.
What we need is for Sutton to prod the sleeping bear with a stick, generate a bit of needle for the match. In the seventies, we had the ‘Leatherhead Lip’ but these days, cup giantkillers are much more respectful. Apparently, Sutton have their own ‘Arjen Robben’; it’s not quite the same. A fantastic footballer but as dull as dishwater when interviewed; Chris Kelly, he ain’t.
Carpet Burns and Pancakes
Media training has spread itself over the game like a blanket. The romance of the cup was driven by the ‘average bloke on the street’ comments of the upstart teams in years gone by. ‘They won’t fancy it at our place’ surfaced a little bit this past week or so but in a jokey way about the changing rooms. Trouble is, football isn’t played in changing rooms and in any case, there must be a pub nearby where the overspill can get their kit on. Jumpers for goalposts, and all that.
Pitch improvements over the years diminished the likelihood of mud-baths or slopes playing into the hands of the non-league teams. Arsenal couldn’t wish for a better surface for their passing game on Monday night. 3G, flat as a pancake? They won’t even get carpet burns from a sliding tackle! Ah, the good old days when a thin layer of Astroturf covered the concrete.
The odds of an upset on Monday are predictably low. Of a 1,000 meetings, Arsenal would win 998, 1 draw and 1 win for Sutton. It’s up to Wenger to pick a team that will not allow the latter two scenarios to arise. It’s up to the players to have their heads screwed on and if they learn one thing from Munich, not to crumple.
How quick on the uptake are our lot?
1992 has been reached in the Times of our Lives series. Listen to a cracking reminder of yesteryear here.