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Review of FA Cup Odds: European failure platform for Arsenal’s FA Cup success
The FA Cup is the oldest competition in world football and while it may not quite hold the same importance as it once did, it is still a trophy that England’s top clubs want to win, writes Nick.
Arsenal have lifted the FA Cup in three of the last four seasons, and they became the most successful team in the history of the competition by winning it for the 13th time with a 2-1 win over Chelsea in last season’s final.
One of the keys to the Gunners’ recent success in the FA Cup has been their relative lack of progress in European competition. Arsenal have failed to go further than the last 16 of the Champions League in each of the last seven seasons, leaving their schedule for the decisive final few months of the campaign relatively free.
That is a pattern that has started to emerge in recent years. Neither of last season’s finalists were involved in European competition further into the campaign than March. Indeed, none of the last 10 finalists have gone deep into European competition. It is necessary to go back to Chelsea in the 2011-12 season to find the last FA Cup winner to enjoy a strong European run.
It is therefore relatively difficult to pick through the favourites for this year’s FA Cup at this stage of the campaign. On paper, any of the teams who finished in the top six of the Premier League last season would be very viable winners. Arsenal, Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Chelsea all have a strong history in the competition, while Manchester City have a big enough squad to maintain multiple challenges.
Everton can be expected to enjoy a good run in at least one cup competition this season, while the likes of Southampton (whose coach Mauricio Pellegrino led Alaves to the final of the Spanish Cup last season) and Leicester City have approaches that should suit knockout football. It is no surprise that they follow the top six in the FA Cup odds from the major UK bookmakers.
There have, though, recently been a number of surprise finalists. Over the last five years, Aston Villa, Crystal Palace and Hull City have all been losing finalists in seasons in which they finished in the lower reaches of the league table. Wigan Athletic lifted the trophy in 2013 at the end of a campaign in which they were relegated from the Premier League.
It is therefore possible that with a favourable wind a team like Huddersfield, Newcastle or Watford could cause some shocks and make significant progress.
It has been 37 years since a lower-league team last won the FA Cup and although there is now little difference in quality between the upper reaches of the Championship and the bottom end of the Premier League, it is difficult to see that changing this time around. Promotion is very much the priority for the majority of Championship teams and none of their quota made it through to the quarter-finals last year.
Teams further down the pyramid have, however, enjoyed some thrilling runs in recent years. Fifth-tier side Lincoln City made it all the way to the quarter-finals last year, while their fellow National League side Sutton United progressed to the fifth round for the first time in their history. League Two’s Millwall eliminated three Premier League teams en route to the last eight, matching Bradford’s run in 2015. So some of the outsiders in the FA Cup odds could provide an exciting run for their supporters.
The magic that remains in the FA Cup often arises from the meetings between these lower-league sides and those from further up the food chain. Every one of the 737 amateur teams who entered the first qualifying round in August 2017 had dreams of adding themselves to the long list of FA Cup giant-killers: of making it through to the third round, drawing a top-flight team and having the opportunity to host or play for a day at Anfield or Old Trafford.
It is a fantasy that will be fulfilled by only a very small number of them, but the desire to write themselves a place in the history of this storied competition nevertheless burns bright.