Perfect storm unlikely to strike for underdogs in FA Cup
Little danger of giant-killing acts so the big four appear certain to march on in FA Cup
The FA Cup fourth round brought some life to the famous old competition but it hasn't altered the reality. We're still on course for another triumph for one of the big six at Wembley in May, even if the six have been cut to four.
Tottenham and Liverpool both exited in the previous round, beaten away by lower-league opponents, but the two Manchester clubs, Chelsea and Arsenal are still standing and they all have home matches this weekend at very short odds.
The problem for any other club with ambitions of winning the trophy - even for Everton, the best team in the Premier League outside the big six - is that it requires almost a perfect storm of calamities to befall the big six. That's what happened in 2008, when Portsmouth won the cup, but a repeat of that situation seems unlikely this year. Four of the big six were left at this stage five years ago, but Manchester United were about to knock out Arsenal and Liverpool would suffer an almighty upset at home to Barnsley. In the quarter-finals, Barnsley repeated their giant-killing feat with a home victory over Chelsea and Portsmouth won at United, which meant all six were out.
That may have been a once-in-30-years occurrence and, the longer the big six remain in the competition, the more the odds multiply in their favour. There seems little danger of any knockouts this weekend, despite the continuing poor form of Chelsea and the failure of Manchester City to reach last season's heights.
Chelsea were given a scare away to Brentford, but the fourth-round replay at Stamford Bridge should be more straightforward. The hope for Brentford is they might be able to play on the discontent surrounding their opponents - as QPR and Swansea did when winning at Stamford Bridge early in January - but the fact that this is the last domestic trophy-winning avenue open to Chelsea should concentrate minds.
Most of Chelsea's wins this season have been by decisive margins - 15 out of 22 by at least two goals - and that points to Chelsea on the handicap and over 2.5 goals as the best bets.
Manchester City rarely have trouble at home to teams outside the elite - ignoring games against the big six and Champions League teams this season, they have won nine out of 11. The failures were a Premier League 1-1 against high-class Everton and a League Cup extra-time defeat against Aston Villa when they put out a second-string side (Mario Balotelli started the match - and does anyone think he would have been that interested?).
Like Chelsea, City could do with rescuing something from their season and, properly motivated, should have no problem covering the handicap against Leeds. This looks set to go over 2.5 goals, too.
Manchester United, meanwhile, host Reading on Monday night and it's unlikely to be as close as the 4-3 thriller they won away at Reading in the Premier League in December.
Everton just might have a little more trouble at Oldham. Backing David Moyes' side at short odds on the road is always a risk as they tend to be functional rather than spectacular - they needed a last-minute goal to win at Bolton in the last round.
Wigan, whose only wins in 2013 have been in the FA Cup, look the Premier League team most likely to suffer an upset, away to Huddersfield.
Arsenal start a big week at home to Blackburn tonight and they look another solid handicap bet. The odds will be much better when they host Bayern Munich in the Champions League on Tuesday and that's a bet worth taking.
Manchester United proved at Real Madrid that the Premier League still ranks at or near the top of the European game, yet Arsenal look underrated against Bayern.
Arsenal have lost only two out of 35 at home in the Champions League since their move to the Emirates and one of those defeats was against Manchester United when they were forced to chase in a semi-final second leg four years ago.
The other defeat is the main negative against Arsenal, as it came this season against Schalke - an inferior team to Bayern in the German Bundesliga. The rest of their home record in the Champions League suggests it was a blip, however, and Arsenal are in a much better place than they were in the autumn.
The Gunners have lost only two of their past 15 games in all competitions and they look one of the best bets of the week on the handicap against Bayern.
Watford, Hull, Sociedad, Hamburg, Arsenal.
1 Watford on handicap Have lost only one of past seven away in the league
2 Hull home win Strong form against bottom-half teams
3 Sociedad home win Excellent recent form, including win over Barcelona
4 Hamburg home win Can prove win over Dortmund was no fluke
5 Arsenal on handicap Decent chance of victory over Bayern
FA CUP, FIFTH ROUND
TODAY: (11pm unless stated): Arsenal v Blackburn, Luton v Millwall (8:45pm), Milton Keynes Dons v Barnsley, Oldham v Everton (2am, Sun)
TOMORROW: Manchester City v Leeds (10pm), Huddersfield v Wigan. Fourth-round replay: Chelsea v Brentford (8pm).
MONDAY: Manchester United v Reading (4am, Tues).
TOMORROW: Liverpool v Southampton (11pm)