The last 16 of the FA Cup is when a number of clubs normally begin to feel that they may just have a chance of winning the famous trophy in May, and many of the big guns make up the names that remain in the competition, with six of the Premier League’s current top seven involved in the eight fixtures to be played over the course of this weekend.
Having triumphed in each of the last two seasons, Arsenal are the team to stop and they begin proceedings with a home tie against familiar opponents in Championship leaders Hull City, the side they beat in the 2014 final and in last season’s third round.
The Gunners will have momentum after their last-gasp victory over title rivals Leicester City last time out, but on the other hand they have a huge Champions League clash with Barcelona coming up on Tuesday, so manager Arsene Wenger may rest a few of his key players. Hull will certainly hope so as they look for a win which would add to what has been a fine season for them so far as they look to seal an instant return to the top-flight.
West Bromwich Albion have been made to work extremely hard by two sides from lower divisions in order to reach this stage, and here they face another potentially tricky test as they head to Reading, who have an excellent recent record in the FA Cup. It looks like a tight encounter which may very well see the Baggies forced into another unwanted replay.
When the draw for this round was made, the pairing that stood out above the rest was Chelsea’s game at home to Manchester City. Like the holders, City have European commitments to think about just three days later, but they will be desperate not to exit this competition having lost successive home games in the Premier League.
Chelsea continue to have a fine record under Guus Hiddink, and this a huge game for the club as the FA Cup represents their most realistic opportunity of ending what has largely been a season to forget with any silverware, but it will be a titanic tussle between two teams in contrasting form.
The only surprising result of the fourth round came in dramatic fashion at the Greenhous Meadow as Shrewsbury Town came from behind twice to overcome Sheffield Wednesday. Their reward is a visit from Manchester United on Monday evening, and will definitely fancy their chances if they can get off to a positive start and rattle the Red Devils, on whom all the pressure will rest.
They did an efficient job of seeing off Derby County in the last round, but United come into this on a low after losing to Sunderland last weekend, leading to yet more doubts over the position of manager Louis van Gaal. Failure to win here would be a disaster, but Shrewsbury and their supporters will be up for it as they turn their attentions away from their battle to stay in League One.
Elsewhere in round five, Tottenham will hope to continue their fine season in a London derby with Crystal Palace, whose form is as poor as their opponents’ is brilliant. Meanwhile, Blackburn Rovers will be keen to put their poor league form to one side as they attempt to claim the scalp of West Ham United, who have proving a very tough side to beat at present.
The late kick-off on Saturday sees Bournemouth entertain Everton in a fixture that provided six goals when they met in the Premier League back in November, while Watford look to earn a place in the last eight as they take on Leeds United, who have seen off two fellow Championship clubs in getting this far.