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The Best F.A. Cup In Years?

Removing my red tinted specs for a second and concentrating on a wider issue for the beautiful game at large, does anybody else feel that this year`s F.A. Cup is the best in years? (Of course not better than 2005, 2003, 2002, 1998, 1993, 1979, 1971, 1950, 1936 or 1930, but you get my point right?) Now, most football fans love a giant killing. It provides a romance that appeals to even the most hard nosed football fan, even hardened cynics like myself. Yes, I hate the fact that these David v Goliath clashes pull out a huge amount of fair-weather fans from the lower leagues, seemingly impervious to their team`s desperation for high attendances in the face of financial meltdown until Arsenal or Manchester United come along. And yes, I hate the "Premiership, you`re having a laugh" chants when the score is 0-0 after forty five seconds. It infuriates me that Barnsley can surmount the effort to look like world beaters when they play Liverpool and Chelsea, it makes me wonder how far a club like that could go if the players applied themselves as zealously in the more humdrum reality of league fixtures.

But who else whooped with delight when Barnsley`s misfiring striker Odejayi beat Carlo Cudicini? Giant killings appeal to our better nature as sports fans, as people who crave the unpredictability and seeing the short, fat guy floor the bronzed, toned athlete. Since the shock has evaporated as the remaining four teams, the unillustrious West Brom, Portsmouth, Cardiff City and Barnsley, contest the Semi Final, many have offered a seemingly sobering dictum. Many have pontificated that the lack of a "big club" present in the Semi Finals simply illustrates how the F.A. Cup has fallen from grace as a low prestige competition. Many quip that is has become a Carling Cup mark II. (Personally, I have a lot of time for the Carling Cup; most of Arsenal`s first team squad have been bled into the team and emerged through that competition). The most severe of the doom and gloom merchants have offered that they seriously would not consider watching Barnsley play Bristol Rovers in an F.A. Cup semi final. It is this arrogance that I rally against in this piece.

Let us examine recent Cup encounters between members of the Big Three and Liverpool, as much as the result was utterly satisfactory, the Arsenal versus United Final of 2005 was hardly absorbing theatre for the neutral. Last year`s final between Chelsea and United was one of the most moribund affairs the old competition has ever seen. And seriously, do I need to start on Liverpool v Chelsea? Often sides of extraordinary ability as the aforementioned serve to cancel each other out, particularly in edgy encounters when trophies are at stake (And particularly when those teams serve up mind numbingly, wrist slittingly awful, turgid football like Chelsea and Liverpool). Recent history suggests that the David v Goliath clashes aren`t much cop either. The Arsenal v Southampton and Manchester United v Millwall finals were entirely predictable, one sided affairs. But this year sees a different proposition entirely. Four sides intoxicated by the grandeur of the competition, with little to lose, going hell for leather at each other for a chance to make history for their respective clubs. Let`s be honest, in recent years, as Arsenal have geared up for Cup Semi Finals, it has been as a sideshow to the latter stages of a league campaign, or played with one eye loping irreverently towards a Champions` League encounter. Much the same can be said for Manchester United, I don`t lament Ferguson or Wenger for that, but with my club`s interest in the competition over, I love the fact that I would be delighted for any of the eventual winners of the tournament. (Though the ex Gooner colony on the South Coast means my loyalties are somewhat with the Pompey boys).

Usually when Arsenal`s interest in the F.A. Cup is prematurely curtailed, I find myself more concerned with who I don`t want to win the trophy. I spent much of last year`s final praying for a punch up which would see both clubs severely censured in the vague hope that maybe, just maybe, Ronaldo and Drogba would be suspended for the first five games of next season. This year, I don`t have to engage in such Machiavellian dialogue with the devil on my shoulder. The arrogance of some football fans infuriates me at times, maybe the showmanship and technical ability of the Fabregas`, Rooney`s or Torres` will be on offer. But exciting matches exist outside of the stratosphere of the Big Four. Back in December, I went to watch Millwall play Oldham with a friend of mine and it was one of the most tense, exciting matches I`ve seen all season. I won`t pretend that footballing caviar was spoon fed me on a china plate, but the match was a highly engaging, high octane affair. I am incredibly confident that this year`s semi finals will throw up something similar (particularly the WBA v Pompey match, both sides play very attractive football). Maybe the misty eyed romantic in me has invaded my better judgement, but as a neutral, I very much look forward to this year`s Semi Finals. I haven`t felt like that for years. (Though I won`t see the Saturday game because I`ll be watching Arsenal play Liverpool. Did that just defeat the entire purpose of this article?).LD.





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The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Tuesday March 11 2008

Time: 1:53PM

Your Comments

Cardiff vs WBA!!
1888scott
Good piece Tim. I was just thinking to myself that this will be the first FA Cup final in years that doesn't contain Arsenal that I will really be able to enjoy. A credit to all four teamsleft in....sterling effort!!!
Rocky7
The best thing that could possibly have happened to the Cup was Man Ure and Chelski getting knocked out. Not only ensures that whoever wins it this season it will be massive for them (not just another cup for Man Utd, for example), but also that we are all spared a repeat of last season's final. Jesus weeping Christ that was boring.
Moorish
Excellent. What I think has surprised a lot of people is the good football played by the lower league teams and the fact that there is some young talent like Aaron Ramsay and Ismail Miller around. And if Barnsley don't win it all, there will be an English Manager lifting the trophy. When was the last time that happened? Joe Royle?
Bran Mak Morn
Absolutely, Barnsley did the whole "get in their faces" thing very well. But when they had the ball,against Liverpool and Chelsea,they played good football and their strike force was toomuch for the likes of Carragher, Terry and Carvalho. I really hope this year's competition becomes an inspiring advert for Championship football. WBA have 94 goals so far this season.
Little Dutch
GreatFA Cup,I'm rooting for Pompei with our old boys, but it would be good if Barnsley go all the way! Re: Champions League tongight - that's 4 English teams gone through. Don't know about you guys, but I'm praying for: In one half, ManU v Barca & Chelsea v Liverpool, the other half: Arsenal v Roma & Shalke v Fenerbache. That's the 4 big boys in one half and I'd back us to beat the teams in our half any day of the week. Come on the Arsenal!!!
michael105uk
LD, ********o, stole my idea for a bloggy thingo on that Ozi's View feature that Rocky has been front paging for us recently. Oh well, great minds think alike. Good read anyways!
Ozi Gooner
Ozi I guess we're all thinking alike. (I finished a piece for a magazine over the weekend right after the QF's.) And yes, I don't know what these people are banging on about (a) lowering the status or prestige of 'the Wembley experience' by hosting the SF's there? I guess Sir Red Nose doesn't have to worry about it now that he's just not going to Wembley. (b) the cup becoming less interesting because there's no big teams around? I for one enjoyed Barnsley's performances vs Liverpool and Chelsea thoroughly, and will follow Pompey all the way because of the attacking brand of football they play. I only follow the PL, but people keep saying WBA are "Arsenal in the Championship"? Sounds like I have to watch both SF's! Do you guys think they can sell out? Their fans would certainly go right? That's a once-in-a-lifetime thing for them. My bet's on Pompey but, like LD said, the beauty of this year's cup is that you just never know.
Lou the Gunneress
Off topic - Mancini's just done a Keegan, almost, announcing to the shocked press after the CL loss that he'll leave after this season. So dramatic..
Lou the Gunneress
West Brom could definitely beat Pompey, wether or not they will is another matter, but in reality they were the team that should've won the Championship last year and I think they would've had a much less emberassing campaign than Derby.
Ozi Gooner
Heehee I'm going off topic again - just saw an interesting video on ATVO. This humble guy said he's not sure if he's the best at football in the team but he's certainly better at table tennis than all of his Arsenal teammates. Guess who?
Lou the Gunneress
van persie
paul_ownz
I had a smile that usually only a big Arsenal win could put on my face when I saw Barnsley fans strom the pitch and raise the players in the air and hugging their manager. That was magic that only the FA cup could produce.
gunnerkid107
Lou, Im going with Lehmann
gunnerkid107
This cup means a lot to the teams remaining in the competition, and we are just as likely to see some defensive tactics employed by West Brom or Portsmouth, and a resulting boring match. But hey, as LD points out, we got a boring final last season, so its not really different. Just making a point that there's no guarantee of an exciting game just coz these teams are involved.
prits
Of course you can never guarantee a good game, it's quite possible the occasion could get to a few players. But the playing field is slightly more level in that the clubs competing are all as inexperienced as one another, in recent history at least. I cannot see Pompey WBA being a defensive game, Pompey deploy a 4-5-1 away from home fairly often, but win most of their away games as a result so it can hardly be called a negative ploy. WBA simply don't have the personnel or the psyche to play a defensive game, a bit like Arsenal, you can't even begin to imagine how they would achieve it. I would anticipate Pompey WBA being an open game insofar as both teams will go for it and not fear one another. Cardiff v Barnsley is a fairly even match up, both sides have gone away to Premiership oppsoition and taken the game to their opponents. Maybe they will be the most boring games in history (taking away the perennial bore fest that is Liverpool v Chelsea), but mostly I'm quite enthused because whoever of the remaining four wins the trophy, it will be a great story for them. And I know it's unlikely I will have to grimace or look away as some freewheeling ***** like John Terry or Rio Ferdinand lifts the trophy.
Little Dutch
Yeah Paul_ownz got it - RvP's great at table tennis. I'd say he's the best footballer in the team too. http://www.arsenal.com/article.asp?thisNav=News&article=488816&lid=NewsHeadline&Title=TV+Online:+Van+Persie+tries+hand+at+table+tennis
Lou the Gunneress
Due to having visited the Hawthornes on numerous occasions in the glorious 80s, ( I even got to meet the legend that is Carlton Palmer!) I'm going to have to root for the Albion despite having a soft spot for Pompey... Totally agree with the sentiments expressed by LD, it is a refreshing change to still be interested in the FA cup despite being knocked out, credit to all the teams involved.
KaoTeK
The fact that Arsenal Vs Liverpool will be on at the same time as one of the Semis means thats a large percentage of people not watching it.
paul_ownz
How ironic, after all these years being played at Cardiff, now they're there, it's at Wembley.... how ironic..... how ironic....
AFC85Lew
Hopefully Pompey will win through so we can all join up for the charity shield come August...
Chix
 

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