The games are coming fast and furious now as we came away from a fantastic midweek show in the Champions League into a tough set of FA Cup games that saw a big scalp collected.
The story of the weekend is Arsenal, a team that is back in crisis. The Gunners are struggling just to finish fourth and qualify for a European play-in berth; they were dumped out of the League Cup by minnows Bradford, and now they must play Bayern Munich on Tuesday after this deflating loss to Blackburn in front of their home fans.
The fact is, the FA Cup was Arsenal’s best chance of winning a trophy this year. The distance between them and the likes of the Manchester teams and Chelsea is growing every season. I agree with Arsene Wenger that the Champions League isn’t over – but it’s a big ask.
The malaise of this club started when they sold Robin van Persie to an arch-rival. I was talking with Sir Alex Ferguson this week and even he expressed surprise about the deal. It would have been okay to send van Persie to Europe, or a Barcelona – but not to Manchester. Arsenal are expected to announce a profit this week, and that’s all fine and good – but at some point, the fans have to start asking if their club’s owners care about winning games and trophies.
Question for me now is if Wenger stays. He’s not going to be let go – but I wonder if in the summer, he steps aside. I’m not saying he’s not one of the top five coaches in the world; I’m saying that nothing lasts forever and I’m wondering if he is thinking his time might be up.
This is the romance of the FA Cup for me. This is a team with players on weekly checks, and a caretaker manager. They had a plan and they executed it, getting Tim Howard away from the ball and getting everyone up to nick the game. The money from these games could save this club, and it’s hard not to pull for them.
Chelsea and Manchester City fully deserved their wins over the lower-division teams. I thought City were particularly clinical, getting their winner from Yaya Toure in the fifth minute and then seeing Leeds United right out the door. It took Chelsea a bit longer to get going, but there was no doubt that they were going to beat Brentford.
Chelsea are a round behind the rest of the teams, and will now play Middlesbrough on the 27th, so should the Blues win that game, that could set up a massive quarterfinal tie against Manchester United.
United play Reading on Monday night and while it won’t be an easy game, you would expect Sir Alex to see his team through. I think we could see a Chelsea-City final or a United-City final – these teams all look up for it and that would be a real treat of a game.
I do want to touch on the one Premier League game this weekend because I thought that was the best we’ve seen out of Liverpool all season long. I know people will say it was a weakened Swansea team, and it was, but the fact is that Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturrdige, Steven Gerrard and Coutinho all impressed me. I think they are set now for a late run, and that fourth-place slot is up for grabs.
This week has some super games: we’ve got Arsenal-Bayern on Tuesday at 2 PM ET with my friend Gus Johnson calling the game from Emirates. You do not want to miss that one. Then we’ve got AC Milan-Barcelona on Wednesday at 2 PM ET, and that’s another really great matchup. which you can see on Wednesday FOX Soccer Plus at 2:30 PM ET. Plus has a free preview on this week and with Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder joining the Turks, that game could be a thriller.
And on that note, I want to thank everyone for a great night in Madrid. That was a special night for me personally and I think the sport here in America as well. I’ve been with FOX Soccer now for five years, and it was really gratifying to see the response to having Gus and I on the game. I think Gus showed such great quality and all the folks behind the scenes deserve a pat on the back for it – and all of you out there who watched deserve a thank you.
As always, I hope you’ll follow me on Twitter @warrenbarton2. I love hearing from you guys, so keep the banter coming! Thanks for reading and for watching!