Simon Bird's FA Cup previews and predictions (round 5)

Sunderland v Arsenal - Sat 18 Feb - 5:15pm

Arsene Wenger has the look of a man who has run out of ideas and direction.

After his "worst" night in Europe, it could get even more disastrous at the Stadium of Light on Saturday evening.

Would another year without a trophy mean a parting of the ways this summer between Arsenal and one of the greatest managers in Premier League history?

Wenger is showing faith in players who are not capable of elevating the Gunners to the levels they have become used to even in their recent trophy free years, never mind when they won multiple league titles and cups.

With their Champions' League qualification also far from a foregone conclusion, there would also seem to be a dwindling chance of spending his way to a stronger squad with the quality needed. Other clubs like Manchester City and Manchester United would surely now be the preferred destination of any of the real top quality European players needed for a quick fix.

Arsenal this year are ordinary. They were ordinary for long periods last week at Sunderland even though they eventually squeezed out a win. They were humiliated in Milan.

Mirroring the form of the team, full of youthful promise but not delivering much, is Theo Walcott who appears to be going backwards as a player.

Saturday's FA Cup clash at Sunderland, a tough one, represents a last chance at a trophy this season. Spurn it and Wenger's reign, however urbane, charming and intelligent he is with us media folk, will be severely weakened, and the end game being contemplated.

Sunderland will fancy their chances this weekend. Reinvigorated by a week of rest, they will be a fresher, more vital proposition, and Arsenal should be worried.

Last weekend in the league encounter they had come through a two hour extra time game in midweek and were clearly tired. But they had Arsenal under the cosh for 15 minutes in the second half, and have garnered confidence from that period of taking the game to the Londoners this time around.

I've got a feeling for a Sunderland cup run this year.

Prediction: 1-0

 

Chelsea v Birmingham - Sat 18 Feb - 12:30pm

It never looks good for a manager when he holds and inquest and ends up on the end of some cutting remarks from his players, while the owner looks on.

That's what has happened to Andre Villas Boas last week, and while not quite in such a dire state as Arsenal, simmering tensions threaten to derail the young manager.

If Roman Abramovic had learned his lesson from forking out tens of millions of pounds to the likes of sacked Carlo Ancelotti and his staff, he would publicly back his manager and let him sort out the aging squad riven with egos and ailing careers.

Or he could let the situation bubble along and wield the axe when the season has properly imploded.

Being a manager the same age as some of the squads dwindling old stars like Frank Lampard and John Terry was always going to be a problem for AVB, but from somewhere, there has to be a signal as to who is the real boss, and whether he has a long term future.

The rumours is AVB has a pay of ceiling of £5 million, which may not count in his favour.

However progress in the Cup should settle the situation. Birmingham are thriving under Chris Hughton, not surprisingly proving himself, as he did at Newcastle, to be a clever, astute, manager with little fuss.

Prediction: 2-0

 

Everton v Blackpool - Sat 18 Feb - 3:00pm

Everton are the kind of club that many a neutral would love to see having a good crack at the Cup. A proper cup tradition and a manager in David Moyes who deserves a bit of glory given the way he has nurtured his side over the last decade.

Moyes' side have experienced a good run of results since the transfer window. Players and staff have been boosted by new signings, there is a spring in everyone's step and a bit of hope for a good end to the season.

That will help put Everton on their way to the last eight.

Prediction: 2-1

 

Millwall v Bolton - Sat 18 Feb - 3:00pm

If we are looking for a Cup shock then this must be the one.

Millwall are hardly setting the Championship alight, struggling just above relegation, but they surprised Southampton in the last round and home advantage, and a noisy crowd, could leave Bolton feeling uneasy.

Survival is Owen Coyle's priority, especially after defeats to Norwich and last weekend at home to Wigan. That leaves the door open for Kenny Jackett's side after a replay.

Prediction: 1-1

 

Norwich v Leicester - Sat 18 Feb - 3:00pm

By this time of the season Norwich should be fretting about relegation. Well that's what most of us unschooled in the miracles that Paul Lambert is working, thought.

SO what a great opportunity the FA Cup represents for Norwich. Top flight status virtually secured, the East Anglians can go flat out for a bit of crowning glory.

Leicester City won't be a push over and there is always the chance of a dip for Norwich after such good results - three wins out of four - but the Carrow Road boys will be celebrating here.

Prediction: 2-1

 

Crawley v Stoke - Sun 19 Feb - 12:00pm

Anyone else getting a bit fed up with Tony Pulis ranting and raving about bad tackles against his players - from the club who were (note I said were, until recently rumbled) the masters of muscular football?

Of course all the bluster is a convenient distraction to divert scrutiny away from Stoke's run of four league defeats.

Can Crawley add to the league misery, especially in light of Stoke's midweek exertions in Europe? They are certainly use to tense situations - League Two is fascinating with two points separating the top 6.

But losing goal hero Matt Tubbs to Bournemouth after scoring 58 goals in 78 games is a blow.

Prediction: 1-1

 

Stevenage v Tottenham - Sun 19 Feb - 2:00pm

Stevenage will either be fresh and raring to go, or a bit ring rusty after three of their last four games were called off. At least they got back to action on Tuesday with a win against Sheffield Wednesday.

Home advantage may give them a glimmer of hope against rampant Spurs, but not enough to win the game.

Spurs could emerge from the weekend a hot favourites to win the FA Cup, sending Harry Redknapp off to England with another trophy.

Prediction: 0-2

 

Liverpool v Brighton - Sun 19 Feb - 4:30pm

At the end of the season, when Liverpool's owners sit down and discuss the ups and deep lows, of this season Kenny Dalglish's position will be strengthened by his performance in the cups.

Liverpool can bag the Carling Cup next weekend against Cardiff, and should be able to progress with not too much fuss against Brighton.

The visitors were organised and hard working against Newcastle and play decent football. But with Manchester City and Manchester United out, this is another trophy chance for the Scousers, and one they won't spurn at this stage.

Prediction: 3-1

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