On Monday, fifth tier Sutton United host Arsenal in the FA Cup (February 20th, 2017, 2:55 p.m. ET on FS1). Any other year, this David vs. Goliath matchup probably wouldn’t be very high on the list for non-Gunners supporters, but this time around the stakes are different: there’s drama on the Arsenal side, and that makes this a must-watch.
Arsenal just came off a dismantling of epic proportions by Bayern Munich in European competition, which in turn came just 11 days following their comprehensive loss to Chelsea in the league. These two losses effectively ended their chances at the two most important trophies they were competing for, but the manner of the losses has rocked the Arsenal hierarchy to its core. The Gunners are in incredibly uncertain territory right now, and this FA Cup tie comes at the most interesting time possible.
Arsenal have won the FA Cup two times in the last three seasons, but those two trophies have been the only silverware the North London side have seen in 13 years. Supporter unrest is at an all-time high, and Arsene Wenger’s job is legitimately on the line for the first time in over a decade. Even an FA Cup win probably won’t save him, but one last trophy might just cushion his departure. A loss, or Sutton simply managing to force a replay, though?
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Simply on the eye test, Arsenal’s confidence as a unit is at an all-time low. Their players were visibly crestfallen at (and before) the final whistle against Bayern. Arsene Wenger was, to borrow from Arsenal Fan TV’s description, stuck in the dugout further away from the touchline than he was during his ban, and the majority of the players didn’t even stick around to clap the fans after the final whistle blew. Something was rotten in the state of Bavaria, and the stink of it hasn’t dissipated one little bit. Visiting a plucky upstart like Sutton who’ll fight with every scrap of their being for FA Cup glory is the last thing the Gunners would have wanted.
It’s really a lose-lose for Arsenal. If they win, as they’re expected to, it won’t provide a big morale boost even if they run up the score. If it’s even remotely close? Ooh-wee, it will not be a pretty sight.
And that’s why this is the FA Cup tie to watch. The drama will be too good.