The FA Cup is a tournament that never fails to entertain with the 4th round of this years competition so far having been no different. It’s never easy to predict results in any cup competition; upsets are not uncommon with small clubs desperate to progress on what is a great occassion for them, as well as some managers deciding to put out weakened lineups, more focused on league football. It’s only made all the more difficult when sides of fairly similar quality are drawn to play each other. This was just one reason why the 4th round of the 2018-19 FA Cup looked to be a memorable one.
This set of fixtures kicked off with what was arguably the most eye catching of them all. A stuttering Arsenal were to host a rejuvenated Manchester United in a match some might expect to have seen in the later rounds. Whilst United were in the better form, Arsenal were coming off the back of a comfortable 2-0 win against Chelsea showing they were more than capable of pulling off a result. Despite the Gunners having a fair few chances, they failed to find the net and were helpless against the counter attack as the visitors scored twice in short succession. None other than former Arsenal fan favourite, Alexis Sanchez, opened the scoring to rub salt in the wounds of the home faithful. Arsenal did manage to pull one back through top goalscorer Aubameyang but it was substitute Anthony Martial who fired home a rebound to secure a 1-3 win for the Red Devils. Arsenal’s failure to reach the next round has made Emery’s first season in charge look all the more likely to be a trophyless one, unless they can win the Europa League, of course. This is by no means the end of the world. Taking over following the 22 year Wenger era was never going to be easy and any silverware so early on would be a bonus more than anything else. Most would agree that Emery has done well given the circumstances. He hasn’t had much financial backing considering the wealth of the North London club and the majority of players who have been added have made a positive impact. However, this does not change the fact all the players the side have been linked with transfer wise are attackers; quite frankly, not what they need. Aubameyang and Lacazette have established themselves as one of the best strike partnerships in the league, a key reason why Arsenal’s problems haven’t been in scoring goals. Their loss to United further highlighted that they have to be more secure at the back. Yes, injuries have not helped their cause, Bellerin being the latest long term casualty, but even so, Arsenal’s defence is not the most solid even if you include the injured players. Whilst Emery does appear to have his side heading in the right direction, you can’t help but think he could better organise his priorities.
Another unpredictable, all Premier League encounter came in the shape of Crystal Palace against Tottenham. Ordinarily, Spurs would be fairly clear favourites but not so much this time round given their current circumstances. They have been without key men Kane and Alli through injury, as well as Son through international duty, for a couple of weeks now. The match itself made it blatantly obvious just how much these figures are missed. Tottenham dominated possession but didn’t create overly much in terms of clear cut chances; when they did create chances, they weren’t clinical enough to finish them. The same can’t be said for Palace who scored twice in what looked like a fairly simple 2-0 victory considering they were playing the Premier League’s third placed team. Spurs are different to their North London rivals Arsenal in that they don’t have a position which is overtly weak or, at least, weaker than the rest of the team. The last few weeks and this latest match in particular have displayed that Tottenham’s main issue is their lack of squad depth. Injuries and other causes for player absences are to be expected across the course of a season, it is something all sides should be prepared for. Two or three key players being out at the same time should not significantly reduce how well a side plays, especially not a top Premier League side like Tottenham. Not only this, but the club don’t appear desperate to do anything about it. This transfer window is looking like yet another uneventful one for Spurs, only compounding fan’s worries which will have emerged over recent weeks.
The surprises continued as yet another two Premier League sides saw their cup runs come to abrupt ends. AFC Wimbledon were outstanding in their 4-2 defeat of West Ham. Despite currently sitting rock bottom of League 1, the Dons found themselves 3-0 up with just over half the match played. Although the Hammers did try to pose some sort of comeback in the second half, grabbing two goals of their own, they never seemed truly likely to complete it. Any hopes of doing so were well and truly ended in the 88th minute when Wimbledon scored their fourth sending themselves through to the next round. Slightly less surprising but in what was still an upset nonetheless, Millwall defeated Everton 3-2. Millwall are renowned for their physicality, something Everton would have been aware of going into the match, but they struggled to deal with it regardless, particularly from set-pieces. Everton aren’t a side lacking in height or strength but defending free kicks and corners has been a weakness of theirs all season. Millwall, who, like Wimbledon, aren’t doing overly well in the league this season, were able to exploit this and secure their place in the 5th round draw. Results and performances like this from teams against top opposition does make you wonder how these partiicular sides could possibly be having a difficult time against worse opposition week in week out. A point could be made for how the psychology, when it comes to cup football, could have a much greater affect than a lot of people might think. The desire and desparation for sides to cause an upset in the cup can be something that greatly motivates the players, perhaps more than they might be for an ordinary league game.
Who truly knows why surprise results are far from uncommon in cup football and, quite frankly, who cares? Everyone loves a giant killing (unless your side are on the receiving end of one) so all that football fans will care about is that we continue to be spoilt with them. A weekend of cup football can sometimes be viewed as a bit boring and something that simply postpones the next week of league football. However, when we’re treated to so many entertaining matches and shock results its hard to see how this can be the case. The 4th round really has captured the beauty of the FA Cup; bring on the 5th!