With the League Cup providing some serious drama on Wednesday, if not exactly great football, the FA Cup fourth round kicks off today and the onus is on the oldest competition in the world to live up to its reputation.
Here’s five things we can expect from this weekend’s fourth round action.
1) Decisions, decisions, decisions for Arsene
A home tie against League One Coventry shouldn’t normally present many problems for the Premier League leaders, however while his team are overwhelming favourites to progress, Arsene Wenger has some serious decisions to make.
The Gunners last won a trophy nine years ago and the FA Cup is an extremely good opportunity to end their drought, but with his team top of the league and depleted by injuries, will Wenger field his strongest XI?
Having failed to strengthen his squad in January, could Wenger opt to rest some of his players ahead of Tuesday night’s trip to Southampton or would that give Coventry – a side that has lost once in the last 11 games – a chance to cause a cup upset?
Decision time, indeed.
2) Martinez must improve Everton’s cup form
Roberto Martinez’s FA Cup triumph last season is by some considered to have earned him the Everton job and the former Wigan manager must be eager to repeat the feat, particularly in the light of Everton’s excellent form in the first six months of the season.
The Toffees could prove a genuine dark horse for the FA Cup, but if Martinez is to celebrate again at Wembley, he must succeed where David Moyes failed during his reign at Goodison Park.
The Manchester United manager oversaw defeats against Oldham, Reading and, even more embarrassingly, Shrewsbury Town, while Blackburn and Wigan – ironically, under Martinez – thrashed the Toffees in their own backyard.
3) The usual cliches
The FA Cup would have retained a lot more of its charm had the media stopped reminding us that it had done so.
Nobody has helped itself to FA Cup-related cliches with the same shameless eagerness ITV has shown over the last few seasons, with Adrian Chiles, Lee Dixon and Gordon Strachan capable to reduce even the biggest upset to a collection of the same, mind-numbingly boring, old tripe.
With BT Sport – hardly a benchmark of excellence in terms of football coverage – set to bore their viewers into going shopping with their wives on Saturday afternoon, ITV’s decision to broadcast Chelsea – Stoke looks even more bizarre.
Expect Clive Tyldesley to debate about the “magic of the Cup” while two largely different sides from the ones that would contest this fixture in the Premier League face each other.
4) Lower leagues in the spotlight
Of the 32 teams left in the competition, only 13 of them plying their trade in the Premier League, although three of them – Cardiff, Crystal Palace and Fulham – might not enjoy the privilege for too long.
Those three sides, together with Swansea, face potentially tricky trips. Cardiff travel to Bolton, two former League Cup winners go head to head as Swansea face Birmingham, while Palace travel to holders Wigan and Fulham go to Sheffield United.
None of those sides are enjoying particularly good campaigns, with Bolton and Birmingham struggling in the Championship and Wigan faring just marginally better, while Sheffield United are only a point above relegation zone in League One.
However, playing in front of their own fans, expect them to be determined to give their supporters something to cheer about – there could be some more Premier League scalps taken this weekend.
5) City going for four
Not even the most ardent of Watford fans or the most optimistic of gamblers would put money on the Championship side to get a result at the Etihad against free scoring Manchester City.
Manuel Pellegrini’s men look stronger and more confident as each game goes by and having secured a trip to Wembley in the Capital One Cup, expect them to show no mercy against the Hornets, as they seek to take another step towards an incredible quadruple.
Granted, the FA Cup has a history of incredible upsets, but you’d be better off looking elsewhere rather than Etihad for one of those this weekend.