United v Arsenal - Conspiracy?
Let me state that I am not a fan of conspiracy theories. I laughed when at the third round draw we had to endure that speculation about FA cheating to bring Villa and United together again, especially that it was clearly number 24 that came out of the 'hat'.
But it is disturbing now. Since the 3-0 win at Wolves in January 2006, United were drawn only Premiership opponents in the FA Cup. In order: Liverpool, Aston Villa, Portsmouth, Reading, Middlesbrough, Watford, Chelsea, Aston Villa, Tottenham and now Arsenal.
Oh yes. There was an air of inevitability as I saw Bristol being drawn against Southampton, Liverpool getting Barnsley... you had to suspect it was going to be one of the big guns.
The good news is that we play at Old Trafford. The bad news is that it's between the derby game on the tenth and the first leg of the Champions League second round duel with Lyon. I think Fergie will not put out a weakened side: on the contrary, he'll want to defeat Wenger badly.
But that's not the point now. The point is, is it possible that it's only a coincidence that United never get lower-league opponents in the Cup? Of course statistically it is. The odds on us playing top-flight team ten times in a row are pretty low but not impossible. And I'm still inclined to accept that it's only a coincidence but one can put forth reasonable arguments to prove the opposite.
There is much talk about the decline of the FA Cup, that teams do not take it seriously anymore. Amid all this the most successful team of the competition, the one with a worldwide appeal, keeps on getting tough opponents and play exciting games. Coincidence?
In the meantime, Chelsea will have another stroll in the park as usual, getting League One side Huddersfield, at HOME, for god's sake. And don't get me started on Liverpool playing League One, Championship and Blue Square South Premier sides (at least they regularly embarass themselves in the process). And there are enough non-Premiership ties to send Liverpool and Chelsea through to the semi-final...
But I am still one those side who say it is a coincidence, nothing else. We are unlucky, Chelsea and Liverpool are lucky (well, there's nothing new there...) and we have to keep on beating everyone.