FA Cup fifth round: 10 things to look out for this weekend

Arsenal need to stand up for Wenger, Sutton United may have already tainted their big day and would Millwall beating Leicester be a shock?

1) Arsenal players owe Wenger after Munich thrashing

No one in football “deserves” to win anything – just ask Steven Gerrard. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t nice when those who have given the game remarkable things are able to retire on a high. For the first time, it looks as though Arsène Wenger will leave Arsenal this summer, which ought to increase the already significant pressure on his players. No doubt, he is partly responsible for their inability to tolerate it, but in the end, it is them out there, not him, and they should be ashamed of their midweek behaviour, as they should of much of the last ten years. But now, they have an opportunity to partially redeem themselves; if they can lift the trophy, Arsenal will once again be the FA Cup’s most winningest team, with Wenger moving clear as the FA Cup’s most winningnest manager. Chances are, they will find a way past Sutton however badly they play, but this tie is not solely about that; they must also begin healing and atoning their thrashing in Munich. If they can play close to their potential, then they will be in a better position for when the games get harder. Arsenal’s players must remind themselves that it is because of Wenger that they have the privilege of playing for Arsenal, and because of Wenger that they are quite as rich as they are. It’s about time they shook the self-consciousness and let it all hang out, if not for themselves, to do all they can for someone they owe a proper send-off. DH

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2) Sutton United chiselling their way out of the nation’s affections

You probably won’t read this anywhere else this weekend, but just nine non-league teams have made it to the fifth round of the FA Cup since the end of the Second World War. This season, two of them have done so for the first time since the establishment of the Football League in 1888. For those heroics alone, both Lincoln City and Sutton United deserve the heartiest of congratulations. However, as we approach the weekend, news that National League side Sutton signed a one-off sponsorship deal to wear The Sun’s branding less than a week after Liverpool announced they were banning that newspaper’s reporters from Anfield has created resentment among pockets of their own supporters and across the wider football community. Opinions vary on both the paper and Liverpool’s decision to ban it, but this was a relationship Sutton decided to embrace despite the certainty it would generate ill-feeling. They may not care and are perfectly entitled to maximise revenue already swollen by the bonus gate, prize and TV revenue coming their way. Their chiselling will come at a price, as what should be their greatest day is already indelibly stained by an entirely-avoidable sideshow that means plenty of neutrals hope they get beaten by Arsenal. When the time for grasping is over and they return to the comparative grind of playing Torquay, Boreham Wood and Barrow, one hopes this isn’t a source of immense regret at Gander Green Lane. BG

Liverpool ban Sun journalists over Hillsborough coverage

Sutton United.
Sutton United will wear this one-off shirt against Arsenal on Monday. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA

3) Rhead all about it

A League club in all but status, National League table-toppers Lincoln City travel to fortress Turf Moor for their first match in the last 16 of the FA Cup in 115 years. Burnley’s ground is intimate by Premier League status, with its capacity of 22,546, and the Imps have had to make do with less than half the 7,000 tickets they requested and will be showing the match on a big screen for those unlucky enough to miss out. If they are to beat Burnley, they will have to do so without Theo Robinson, who has re-signed for Southend since helping the Imps see off Brighton in the last round. While Robinson will be conspicuous by his absence, one Lincoln player who will be conspicuous by his presence is Matt Rhead, a 32-year-old centre-forward who left his job helping to build JCB machinery to turn professional just four years ago. Standing 6ft4in in his socks and weighing in at more than 16 stone, he was a constant thorn in the side of Brighton’s defenders in the last round. Burnley centre-half Michael Keane is unlikely to have come up against anyone quite like the Stoke fan, who has advanced further in this season’s FA Cup than the Premier League side he supports. He’s in form too: after an 11-match goal drought, Rhead scored two goals in his side’s 3-2 win over Woking last weekend. BG

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4) Pochettino must pick Tottenham’s best XI at Fulham

Tottenham are not going to win the league this season; Tottenham have not won a European trophy since 1984; Tottenham have not won the FA Cup since 1991; Tottenham have not won anything at all since 2008. And yet, under Mauricio Pochettino, they have not really taken knockout football all that seriously – they had, for example, no business whatsoever being 2-0-down to Wycombe Wanderers inside 37 minutes, and however laudable their comeback, it is hard to believe that they prepared properly and were prepared properly. Likewise at Gent on Thursday night, though they fielded most of their first XI, they did not attack the game with their usual vicious intensity and now face a fight to stay in the Europa League. No team is too good for the cups: certainly not Spurs, who must win something tangible that extends beyond their own approval. At Fulham, Pochettino must pick his key players and impress upon them – after impressing upon himself – what a cup final, never mind a cup-final win, would mean to their supporters, their professional development, and their careers. No one will ever regale their grandchildren with tales of consecutive top-four finishes. DH

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5) A Fulham manager with unfinished business

An 84th-minute replacement for Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink when Chelsea beat Fulham in the 2002 FA Cup semi-final between the two rivals, Fulham manager Slavisa Jokanovic never got off the bench when his team went on to lose the subsequent final at the hands of Arsenal and has in the past sounded like a man with unfinished business. His side seems a source of frustration. Despite winning three of their last four matches in the Championship, it is the one they lost that catches the eye: handing Birmingham City their only league win from 11 excursions under the controversially appointed Gianfranco Zola. Considering Tottenham Hotspur’s busy schedule, Mauricio Pochettino won’t field anything approaching a full-strength side at Craven Cottage, but Jokanovic is unlikely to reshuffle. The Serb has said previously that he considers the FA Cup to be “the best cup competition in the world” and firmly believes that picking his strongest players at every opportunity can only help improve them for challenges further down the road. “I try and organise ourselves in the best way we can at this moment and we can try and be stronger for the game ahead of us,” he has said of his philosophy. To paraphrase: “Lads, it’s Tottenham.” BG

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Slavisa Jokanovic
Slavisa Jokanovic’s Fulham side have won three of their last four matches in the Championship. Photograph: Tony O'Brien/Reuters

6) Oxford hoping to catch Middlesbrough cold

It’s a fair old while since Oxford United, inspired by Trevor Hebberd and captained by Malcolm Shotton, football’s very own Colonel Mustard, thrashed QPR to win the 1986 Milk Cup final. Just two seasons later they were relegated, caught up in the machinations of the Maxwell family, and so began a drop through the divisions, briefly reversed in the mid-to-late 90s before, in 2006, they dropped out of the Football League altogether. But they returned in 2010 and are now back on the up. Led by Michael Appleton, the only manager of the 92 clubs to sport a neck tattoo, they have been transformed into a hardworking, enterprising outfit, winning promotion to League One last season. Now, after taking time to acclimatise to their new surroundings and without Kemar Roofe, who moved on to Leeds, they have cemented themselves as a play-off threat. Middlesbrough, on the other hand, have won only once in the league since the middle of December, scoring more than once only once. Given the sides left in the cup – five of the Premier League’s top six, none of whom are playing one another – it would be understandable for Aitor Karanka to rest members of his first XI. But his team need to find goals and momentum from somewhere; their next three league games – away to Palace, then Stoke and at home to Sunderland – will go a long way to determining their arrangements for next season. They have no choice but to take Oxford seriously, and in any event, United are a serious proposition. DH

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7) Wolves’ long game could pry open Chelsea

Over the last five or so months, almost every team in the Premier League has struggled to exploit Chelsea’s 3-4-2-1 formation. And this is despite its obvious weaknesses: space in the corners, space between the wide centre-backs and wing-backs, and space in the middle when the central-midfielders are drawn out to help. Tottenham managed it, but few sides can employ similar energy and quality, so their pro forma is not entirely helpful. But then, at Burnley last week, long diagonal passes – the kind not beyond most professional footballers – stretched Chelsea, allowing Joey Barton and Ashley Westwood to compete in midfield, and suddenly, the game was even. It is not too much to expect Wolves to try this. Paul Lambert is cannier than sometimes seemed so during his time at Villa, and you can be sure that he noticed Chelsea’s struggle at Turf Moor. Of course, knowing how to beat the best side in the country is not the same as beating the best side in the country, but there is no excuse for not having a decent shy at it. DH

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Wolves fans
Wolves fans celebrate their side’s surprise win at Anfield in the fourth round.

8) League One v Premier League, would this be a shock?

One of those FA Cup pairings where it’s difficult to know what outcome, if any, would constitute a shock. Anyone who has seen the Premier League champions play in recent months will almost certainly fancy Neil Harris’s in-form Millwall to beat them at the Den, although the second-string Leicester side Claudio Ranieri put out against Derby County’s reserves in the fourth round played with considerably more swagger than the first XI currently sleepwalking towards relegation. It has been an eventful time for both clubs: Millwall have had to contend with the sinister Lewisham Council land-grab that Barney Ronay continues to illuminate, while Leicester have got themselves into all sorts of on-field bother following last year’s unlikely fairytale. More often than not, match-ups of this kind boil down to “Who Wants It More” and while both teams would probably swap further advancement for a single point to aid their respective league causes, there can be little doubt that it is the League One side and their supporters who will be most enthused by this contest. BG

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9) Blackburn can take advantage of United’s heavy legs

In the last couple of weeks, Manchester United have looked like a team that is learning – or re-learning – the art of doing just enough. They have not played all that well, but have produced enough excellence to win comfortably, keeping five consecutive clean sheets in the process in all competitions. These are skills they are going to need over the next few months as the games pile up and fatigue sets in, all the more so given the difficulty of their league run-in and likely importance of those fixtures. On Sunday, they cannot afford the kind of slow start which has been a feature of their winter. Though Blackburn are struggling, they will know that their best chance is to get at United early, while Thursday night’s Europa League tie is still in their legs; if Rovers are aggressive in the tackle and brave in committing men forward, there are more than capable of discomfiting what is still a far from settled defence. DH

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10) Huddersfield have a chance to get at Manchester City

In November 1987, City met Huddersfield at Maine Road and beat them 10-1, with three different players – Paul Stewart, David White and Tony Adcock – all scoring hat-tricks. No English league side has reached double figures since and were this cup tie happening in any of the previous 10 seasons, Huddersfield fans could be forgiven for fearing a repeat. But that was then. Now, under the aggressive, innovative, confident leadership of David Wagner, their team look likely to achieve their best league finish since the early 1970s and will feel they have a chance of causing an upset. Though it is impossible to predict who will start for City, and even once the team has been announced, how they will line up, one thing is for certain: the defence will be a dodgy one. So, if Huddersfield can get enough of the ball, if they have the stamina and desire to press from the front and, most importantly, if they have practised set pieces, then their visitors can be got at. DH

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This article has been amended. A previous version stated that Huddersfield are likely to achieve their best league finish since the early 1950s. This has been corrected to the early 1970s.

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