Coinciding with the season entering its final stages is the semi-final round of the FA Cup at Wembley Stadium. What is certainly a special time for most fans has brought about hot debates in recent years over whether the world’s most historic domestic cup tournament has lost its appeal.
The Magic of the FA Cup: Is the Cup Regaining Its Shine?
Many managers use the cup games as an opportunity to rotate thin, tiring squads while others go for broke in an attempt to bring the cup home for their supporters. What is interesting is the ferocity with which many top Premier League managers have defended the FA Cup, insisting that they do take it seriously and that it is still a priority for clubs at all levels.
It has perhaps been easy to question if those comments, in recent years, carried much weight. We have seen plenty of big players rested and smaller clubs reaching the latter stages of the competition, reaffirming the belief within many that the FA Cup is only of importance to those who don’t have genuine aspirations of winning the biggest trophies. A refreshing change, however, is the line-up for this year’s semi-final fixtures.
The penultimate stage of games will consist of four of England’s giants: Arsenal, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea. Anybody claiming that any of these sides, from the players to the fans, will not be taking these fixtures seriously would be mistaken to do so. The matches, which will all be played in front of sellout crowds at Wembley, carry great significance for all involved.
The stakes are massive; get past one top domestic rival for a shot to do the same in the final. Of course, there are far more than just “bragging rights” up for grabs. League leaders Chelsea, led by this season’s appointment of Antonio Conte, have the incentive of securing the FA Cup which would likely see them finish the season as winners of the historic “double”.
Tottenham, in search of their first trophy for almost a decade, will see the cup as the perfect opportunity to end their drought and start to bridge the gap between themselves and the more successful clubs around them. Manchester City are also led by a manager in his debut season in Pep Guardiola, who recently confessed that it would be a failure to end the season with no silverware. With an outside shot at the title as much as they can hope for in the Premier League, Guardiola’s men will certainly not want to let their cup chances slide.
Arsenal, somewhat in turmoil after disastrous league and European form, can escape those woes by capitalising on their only remaining hope of a trophy and if, as many suggest, Arsene Wenger will step down at the end of the season, what better way for a club legend to bow out?
That said, this season’s competition has not all been about the big boys. There were the usual giant killings, as we have come to expect in a competition which has so often produced unbelievable results. Sutton United and Lincoln City, two non-league clubs, getting as far as they did, grabbed the hearts of the nation. Both were knocked out by joint-FA Cup record-holding Arsenal, yet momentarily had everyone believing that anything was possible. Although they will not defy all odds to go on and win it, the FA Cup has unquestionably done wonders for the publicity of both clubs.
To have such mouthwatering, fiercely contested fixtures on the horizon is a testament to what the cup still means to everyone involved. What the impending games also provide is a group of teams who of course want to win, but will be desperate not to lose.
This fact leaves us with what is sure to be an incredible end to another fantastic FA Cup campaign.