The FA Cup Fourth Round games were played over Saturday and Sunday this weekend. Premier League leaders Manchester United and Arsenal both played sides from League One, two divisions below the Premiership. Both United and Arsenal chose to field weakened sides, using many of their second string players and both struggled to beat the League 1 sides. Manchester United went 1-0 down to Southampton in an awful first half display. Southampton‘s Chaplow picked up a poor clearance from United defender Jonny Evans and drove into the top corner of the net on the stroke of half time. Southampton continued to press in the second half and threatened a second goal. On 58 minutes Sir Alex had seen enough and sent on Nani and Giggs. Within 10 minutes of the change Michael Owen headed home a cross from Gabriel Obertan to level the score. But Southampton continued to threaten and looked dangerous. In the 75th minute United took the lead after Giggs intercepted a pass from Ryan Dickson and played in Hernandez, who slotted in the winner.
Arsenal hosted League One Huddersfield, currently sitting third in that division, but recently lost 4-0 to Carlisle in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, whatever that is. Arsene Wenger once again made major changes to his first choice side. Bringing in Squillaci and Gibbs in the back line and giving Almunia, now apparently third choice goalkeeper, his first game four months. In the midfield Diaby was given a run after another injury layoff and Denilson again was favoured over his more talented team mates. Van Persie was rested and Chamakh played at Centre Forward. Arsenal pressed hard from the kick off and Huddersfield defended deep. Nicklas Bendtner opened the scoring in the 22nd minute with a shot that took a deflection off of Huddersfield defender Clarke. Both of them will be disappointed that this was recorded as an own goal in some reports. Arsenal continued to dominate, but failed to increase their lead. Then on the half an hour Samir Nasri pulled up with a damaged hamstring and was replaced by Rosicky. Ten minutes later Squillaci put in an illegal body block on Huddersfiled‘s right back Hunt and was sent off, forcing Arsenal to play out the remainder of the game with 10 men. This gave Huddersfield renewed confidence and they pressed for an equaliser. It eventually came in the 66th minute. Huddersfiled striker Lee headed past Almunia from a corner. Wenger turned to his captain and sent on Fabregas to save the day. Fabregas turned the game again in Arsenal‘s favour creating several chances on the Huddersfield goal. Eventually Bendtner was brought down illegally in the area and Fabregas converted the resulting penalty, to the relief of the Arsenal fans, team and management. They really do not need another replay, let alone the embarrassment.
Today is the last day of the January transfer window and once again Wenger has not opened the cheque book. Despite the fact that every man and his dog believes that Arsenal badly need another central defender. He seems to think that he has five of them and does not want to pay another when they are all fit. But this ignores the fact that one or other of them is always injured, or banned and Squillaci and Koscielny have not really cut it in the Premier League. Not to mention the fact that Alex Song does not really count as cover in that position, when there is no cover for him as defensive midfielder. Still in Arsene we trust, even if that is a religious experience some times.
Meanwhile back to the FA Cup. The fortune of the two Premier League giants continued in the 5th round draw. Where Manchester United were drawn at home to non-league Crawley Town and Arsenal away to League 1 Leyton Orient. Undoubtedly these will be dream games for the lower league sides and the stuff that makes the FA Cup what it is.
Chelsea could only manage a 1-1 draw at Everton adding a replay to their crowded schedule. It was the same result for Manchester City against League One Notts County. West Ham beat the other Nottinghamshire side, Nottingham Forest 3-2 continuing their form of doing much better in the cups than the Premier League. Aston Villa continued their revised form, beating Blackburn 3-1. One of the biggest shocks of the round was between two Premiership sides, with Tottenham going down 4-0 to Fulham conceding two penalties in the first 15 minutes. So much for always winning when the year ends in one.
So all action is back on the Premiership tomorrow, but look out for some of the interesting draws in the fifth round of the FA Cup.
West Ham v Burnley
Notts County or Manchester City v Aston Villa
Stoke City v Brighton
Birmingham City v Sheffield Wednesday
Leyton Orient v Arsenal
Everton or Chelsea v Reading
Manchester United v Crawley Town
Fulham v Bolton or Wigan
Ties to be played on the week ending 19 and 20 February 2010.