The top four teams in the Premier League are still competing on numerous fronts and having been drawn against one another, do they look to prioritise?
The FA Cup fifth round draw between Arsenal/Liverpool and Manchester City/Chelsea are ones that those clubs would not have wanted. Losing against your rivals, even though it’s not in the league, still has that psychological effect at this time in the year. I think that is why all four teams will treat it with the utmost respect as they know that it could have lasting implications. I have never seen a team that benefitted through losing football matches and no team ever wants to lose in order to concentrate on another competition. The idea of losing football matches and having a free week doesn’t make sense - the loss of momentum and the psychological impact of losing has a huge effect.
If you take their last two results against Liverpool and Manchester United into consideration, I’m just not sure that Arsenal have got what it takes to be able to compete on all three of their remaining fronts. Arsène Wenger hasn’t got the depth or the power of a Manchester City or Chelsea squads and it’s a tough ask for them to win the title. We’re all aware it has been nine trophy-less years for Arsenal, so he needs to make sure that they try to win a competition, and the FA Cup, you could argue, is his best chance.
With a number of all Premier League matches this round, it does mean that we could potentially see four lower league opposition in the hat for the quarter finals. We always used to say that a home draw against a Premier League mid-table club is always better than an away draw against a team top of the Championship. You’ve got home comfort, you know the opposition that you’re playing against, you would normally beat them in the league and they’d feel demotivated by such a tough draw. Whereas playing away at a ground you quite likely are not familiar is not where you want to be - you’re suddenly the underdog, the home fans will create a big atmosphere on the day – and that’s the sort of game that whilst you have to take it on board, you’d prefer to be at Old Trafford knowing exactly who you’re up against.
Saying that though, probably the lowest point in my career came in the third round of the FA Cup in 2010 against Leeds United at Old Trafford. They were top of League 1 at the time and 42 places separated us. I was terrible, and as a team we did not play well. I remember coming off after the game and thinking ‘I’m finished, I need to retire’. It was such a low point. When the other team bring 9,000 fans, they’ve got 15% of the grounds support and they can really lift themselves and you can, as they say, catch a cold.
We had other upsets over the years, I remember playing a League Cup tie for instance where we got knocked out by York City over two legs – it was a humbling experience. Also going to Exeter having drawn at Old Trafford, and I think we also drew with Burton one year as well. There have been times over the past 20 years when we’ve been on the receiving end of playing really difficult ties playing against tough lower-league opposition. So although you do get the odd cup-upset, and you do get the odd cup-run – we had Swansea last year and Cardiff were in a final two years ago and we had Birmingham beating Arsenal in the League Cup final - the best teams usually wins. Ultimately, you have to pay attention to the game like any other because you can really end up with a bloody nose!
My best FA Cup memory, even though I only came on for two minutes, was the Cantona last goal at Wembley in 1996 against Liverpool to win the double. It was my first FA Cup, I’d lost the final the year before playing against Everton, so to actually be part of a squad that won it the year after and to score in the last minute against one of our great rivals – that was probably the highlight of my FA Cup career.