Here are a few storylines to be aware of ahead of this weekend’s slate of FA Cup games.
Can Arsenal balance things out?
Arsenal is in for a busy week, as they have a trio of games in three different competitions during an eight-day run.
The Gunners’ hectic stretch begins on Saturday when they host Blackburn in the fifth round of the FA Cup. Then next Tuesday, Arsenal welcomes Bayern Munich the Emirates Stadium for the opening leg of their Champions League round-of-16 series. Finally, the Gunners return to Premiership action next Saturday when Aston Villa pays a visit to the Emirates.
It’s a delicate balancing act, especially when you consider the precarious position that Arsenal finds itself in. Trophy-less since winning the 2005 FA Cup, the Gunners are desperate for silverware, and the FA Cup may be their best shot at winning a major trophy this season.
But Arsenal also faces a tough tie against Bayern Munich in Europe, and they currently sit fifth in the Premiership standings, just outside of the Champions League zone. If they are to qualify for next season’s Champions League, they’ll need to finish fourth and close the gap on Tottenham, who are just above them in the Premiership table.
Defender Per Mertesacker believes the team is capable of competing on all three fronts at the same time.
“We still have an important cup game on Saturday (first) – we absolutely want to advance in the FA Cup, that is why the preparations for Bayern are not that intense yet,” Mertesacker told the Daily Telegraph.
“However, beginning on Sunday the preparations for Tuesday’s match will be extreme.
“Bayern are doing superb this year and that is a big challenge for us, but we are looking forward to both legs.”
Oldham the giant killers
League One side Oldham Athletic pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the fourth round when they defeated Liverpool 3-2 at home last month.
Now the Latics are looking to pull one over on another Merseyside when they host Everton in a fifth-round match on Saturday.
And if you think the League One side can’t make magic happen against Everton, think again. The last time these sides met, Oldham left Goodison Park with 1-0 win in the FA Cup third round in 2008.
Also, Everton have won just one of their last five visits to Oldham in all competitions (with two draws and two losses).
Left-back Leighton Baines was in the Everton side that lost to Oldham five years ago. Baines insists he isn’t out for revenge, and instead remains focused on putting in a "professional" performance.
"You know you’re going to be playing in difficult conditions and sometimes things don’t go for you, but we’ve just got to go there and be professional," Baines told the Liverpool Echo.
"You’ve got to make the right decisions and not get caught up in the different style of play which they’ll try and force on the game.
"We need to play our own game and if we can get the first goal then that can make a big difference."
Mancini hopping mad
Don’t be surprised if Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini fields a "B team" line-up on Saturday when the Blues host Leeds United in a fifth-round match.
The Italian publically vented his anger after City’s stunning 3-1 loss to Southampton last weekend, a result that dropped his team 12 points back of league leaders Manchester United with 12 games left in the season.
In the aftermath of the loss to the Saints, Mancini questioned the attitude of some of his players and threatened to drop some of his stars from the starting 11 against Leeds.
“I am sure we will change that, because I will change players next week,” Mancini told the Manchester Evening News on Monday.
“I only want players who are ready for the fight in the last 12 games.
“I am very angry with a lot of my players, and very disappointed at the performance, because it is impossible to play the way we did.
“We didn’t fight for every ball. We can’t always win by playing well – that is normal. Sometimes we play well and win, but you also need to be able to win because you fight for every ball, and fight against an opponent who also wants to win the game."
Chelsea has hands full with Brentford
On paper it’s a mismatch: Chelsea (the reigning champions of Europe) versus Brentford (currently sixth in the League One standings).
But last month, the Blues needed a late goal from Fernando Torres to salvage an away draw with Brentford, forcing a fourth-round replay at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
And before you write off Brentford, consider this: Chelsea has dropped points to Queens Park Rangers and Southampton at home in the Premiership this season.
Granted, Brentford isn’t a topflight side, but considering the way it exposed Chelsea’s defence in the 2-2 draw last month, it’s not crazy to suggest that the Blues could concede this time around, too.
What’s more, Chelsea will be coming off an away Europa League match on Thursday against Sparta Prague, so the Blues won’t be as rested as their League One opponents.
Two players Brentford will have to keep close tabs on are Frank Lampard and Juan Mata.
Lampard has been involved in 23 goals (scored 14 and assisted nine) in his last 24 FA Cup appearances Mata has scored four goals and set up six others in nine FA Cup games for the Blues.
Eight pack of facts
Here are some numbers to keep in mind, for all you statistical nerds out there (you know who you are):
– Luton vs. Millwall: Excluding qualifiers, Millwall is unbeaten in their last 17 matches (13 wins and four draws) in the FA Cup against sides from lower divisions.
– Arsenal vs. Blackburn: Jordan Rhodes has scored nine goals in his last 10 appearances for Blackburn in all competitions.
– MK Dons vs. Barnsley: This is the first time MK Dons have reached the fifth round of the FA Cup.
– Oldham Athletic vs. Everton: Leighton Baines has scored four goals in his last eight appearances for Everton in all competitions.
– Manchester City vs. Leeds United: This will be the sixth time that Manchester City and Leeds United have met in the FA Cup.
– Huddersfield Town vs. Wigan Athletic: Jordi Gomez has scored two goals in Wigan’s three FA Cup matches this season.
– Chelsea vs. Brentford: Only once in the last 14 years has Chelsea failed to reach the fifth round of the FA Cup.
– Manchester United vs. Reading: The last time Manchester United lost to Reading in any competition was in the FA Cup in January 1927 — a stretch of 13 games.