The final weekend of January was all tremendous fun. This, it seemed, was what the FA Cup had been like when we were kids. ("We" being anyone over age 30.) There were shocks, top-flight clubs trembling, lower-league teams bludgeoning and battering and in many cases outplaying their betters. Here, in the 46 hours from Millwall beating Aston Villa to Oldham defeating Liverpool, was a distillation of the fabled magic of the cup.
Five Premier League clubs fell to teams from lower down the pyramid, while Arsenal were pushed extremely close by Brighton, and Chelsea, having nicked a late equaliser, must have another go against Brentford on Sunday. There was QPR, 4-0 down at home to the third-flight Milton Keynes Dons and Norwich bundled out by non-league Luton. We kept waiting for the weekend to fall flat, but instead it built to a giant-killing crescendo.
But after the party comes the next-day reckoning. Only seven of the 16 teams who remain in the Cup are from the Premier League, and that includes Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea.
The fifth-round draw was not one to set the pulse racing: perhaps Leeds United, conquerors of Tottenham Hotspur, can raise themselves at Manchester City, but that aside, the only tie that really leapt out was Millwall's visit to Luton, and that less for football reasons than for memories of the riot when the sides met in 1985.
For all the upsets, there is a real danger of ending up with very familiar semi-finals. Or, perhaps worse, there are a couple more shocks and a World Cup 2002 situation is created in which one major side can blunder past a series of patsies without playing particularly well to win a championship.
But worst of all is the nagging feeling that none of it really matters. Every year, teeth are gnashed and garments are rent as people try to work out how to restore the lustre to the FA Cup.
The truth is, in the present economy of English football, it's impossible. In the past decade, the only side to win the FA Cup without also qualifying for the Champions League was Portsmouth - at such economic cost that the club is now in the third flight and on the verge of bankruptcy.
Finishing in the top four, as Arsene Wenger conceded, means far more that silverware: the only clubs who can win the FA Cup don't particularly care about doing so.
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