Arsene Wenger insists the allure of the FA Cup remains strong despite fresh claims that the famous old competition has lost its appeal.
Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce has been infuriated by the Premier League’s decision to put a round of fixtures in midweek following the third round and suggested the move was a further sign of a lack of respect for the FA Cup.
Allardyce says he has no choice but to field a weakened team when Sunderland face Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in the third round on Saturday as his side, who sit 19th in the Premier League, face a crucial trip to fellow strugglers Swansea on Wednesday.
But Arsenal boss Wenger, whose side hope to become the first club since Blackburn in 1886 to win the FA Cup in three successive seasons, has dismissed the idea out of hand and believes the well-worn ‘magic of the cup’ label is still true for all of the teams taking part in the 145-year-old competition this weekend.
When asked what impact the midweek Premier League games will have on the FA Cup, he replied: “None, I don’t see why the FA Cup should be ostracised or be neglected because of the Premier League.
“When you play in the Champions League, you play on a Wednesday. In the Premier League, you play on a Saturday. Why should you not play Saturday, Tuesday or Wednesday? It’s no problem.
“The FA Cup is a great competition. I’m not sure that Sunderland will field a weaker a team. We take care of this competition like everybody does.
“Everybody dreams of winning the FA Cup. There may be some priorities at some stage of the season for some clubs who think they are in trouble and have to make these kinds of decisions, so they choose.”
The visit of Sunderland to the Emirates is one of five all-top-flight ties in round three.
– Cup specialists -Manchester City, three points below Arsenal in the league, visit Norwich City, while high-flying Leicester City visit fourth-place Tottenham Hotspur.
Leicester will be without 15-goal top scorer Jamie Vardy, who is due to undergo minor groin surgery, but the England striker is expected to be fit for the teams’ reunion in the league three days later.
The other all-Premier League affairs see Southampton host Crystal Palace and Newcastle United visit Watford.
Manchester United also face lower-league opposition in the form of third-tier cup specialists Sheffield United, who reached the League Cup semi-finals last season and the FA Cup last four the year before.
League champions Chelsea, meanwhile, have a home game with Scunthorpe United, as interim manager Guus Hiddink looks to emulate his feat of 2009 by leading the west London club to FA Cup glory.
“We can go far in the FA Cup and hopefully we can win it,” says goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, whose side continue to flounder in 14th place in the league.
“With the FA Cup and Champions League it can still be a positive season, especially if we end up in the top four in the league.”
Perhaps the best chance of an upset will be at Ten Acres on the south coast, modest home of fifth-tier Eastleigh, the lowest-ranked team left in the tournament.
The non-league side host four-time FA Cup winners Bolton Wanderers, who are bottom of the Championship and on the brink of bankruptcy.
Saturday (1500 GMT unless otherwise stated):
Arsenal v Sunderland, Birmingham City v Bournemouth, Brentford v Walsall, Bury v Bradford City, Colchester United v Charlton Athletic, Doncaster Rovers v Stoke City, Eastleigh v Bolton Wanderers, Everton v Dagenham and Redbridge, Hartlepool United v Derby County, Huddersfield Town v Reading, Hull City v Brighton and Hove Albion, Ipswich Town v Portsmouth, Leeds United v Rotherham United, Manchester United v Sheffield United (1730 GMT), Middlesbrough v Burnley, Newport County v Blackburn Rovers, Northampton Town v Milton Keynes Dons, Norwich City v Manchester City, Nottingham Forest v Queens Park Rangers, Peterborough United v Preston North End, Sheffield Wednesday v Fulham, Southampton v Crystal Palace, Watford v Newcastle United, West Bromwich Albion v Bristol City, West Ham United v Wolverhampton Wanderers, Wycombe Wanderers v Aston Villa (1245 GMT)
Sunday (1400 GMT unless otherwise stated):
Cardiff City v Shrewsbury Town (1800 GMT), Carlisle United v Yeovil Town, Chelsea v Scunthorpe United, Oxford United v Swansea City (1200), Tottenham Hotspur v Leicester City (1600 GMT)