Long shot Lincoln City give under pressure Arsene Wenger easy target as Arsenal face FA Cup quarter-final test
Imps travel to Emirates Stadium with manager Danny Cowley saying non-league side are 1000/1 shots
The betting odds suggest Lincoln City have a three in 100 chance of winning their FA Cup quarter-final at Arsenal on Sunday morning (Hong Kong time), while Lincoln manager Danny Cowley puts it at one in 1,000, but either way it would be a huge shock if the Gunners did not go through.
Expectation has a big influence in football, as we saw with Claudio Ranieri’s recent sacking by Leicester City.
Ranieri achieved the impossible by taking Leicester to the Premier League title and into the last 16 of the Champions League, but in doing so raised expectations to much higher levels than would have been the case if he had done a more mediocre job as manager.
He was sacked because Leicester were in a relegation battle, even though they had been in that position the season before he arrived and were rated fifth favourites for the drop at the start of his remarkable title-winning season.
The weight of expectation is bearing down on Arsene Wenger like never before at Arsenal after another torrid week at the hands of Bayern Munich in the Champions League.
In 21 years at the helm, Wenger has built the club into a financially stable institution with a fantastic stadium and a near permanent place in England’s top four, but the footballing success of his early years, which included three league titles and four FA Cups, set a higher benchmark by which to judge his achievements.
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Many people forget that those seven major trophies within Wenger’s first decade at the club matched the haul in nearly half a century before his arrival.
Most of the comparisons involving Wenger focus on the difference between his first decade of success and his second decade of relative failure, with just two FA Cups, rather than the longer-term picture.
Arsenal fans expect trophies now and Wenger’s inability to win another Premier League title or progress beyond the last 16 of the Champions League is threatening to become a noose around his neck.
Being knocked out by Lincoln surely would be a humiliation too far, but it is highly unlikely.
Favourable fixtures are a key ingredient of FA Cup success and Arsenal have been blessed to be drawn at home to the weakest team left in the competition.
Whatever the criticism of Wenger’s team at the highest level, their quality shines through against lesser opposition.
Even in the Premier League, where the standard of opposition is much higher than Lincoln, Arsenal have won 14 out of 19 this season against teams below the top six, which includes eight out of 10 at home.
Since their initial golden period under Wenger ended with FA Cup success in 2005, Arsenal have been knocked out by lower-league opposition only once by Blackburn of the Championship in 2013 and have won 14 of their 20 ties without the need for a replay or extra-time, which includes 10 out of 13 at home.
Cowley and his brother Nicky have worked wonders to bring Lincoln to the quarter-finals, becoming the first non-league club to reach this stage in 103 years.
Lincoln are the leading non-league side in England, and probably up to League One standard already, but beating Arsenal is on a different level altogether to their victory over Premier League side Burnley in the fifth round.
One goal was always likely to make Lincoln competitive against low-scoring Burnley, but Arsenal have not been beaten this season without the opposition scoring at least twice.
Cowley broke the Burnley match into six 15-minute periods, instructing his players to treat each one as a mini-game, but has changed that approach to nine 10-minute periods against Arsenal.
If everything falls right, Lincoln might win one with a set-piece goal but more likely is that Arsenal will win four.
Any less would be a highly creditable result for Lincoln; avoiding defeat would be a brilliant achievement.
The more serious difficulties will lie ahead for Arsenal, as this season’s FA Cup looks likely to deliver the most high-level semi-final line-up in years - probably Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City and one of Chelsea or Manchester United.
Chelsea at home to United rounds off the weekend on Tuesday morning and promises to be a cracker with both teams in excellent form.
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The hosts are difficult to oppose, having won 15 out of 16 at Stamford Bridge in all competitions under Antonio Conte with their only loss coming against Liverpool early in the season before they changed formation.
They beat United 4-0 at home in the league in October, but Jose Mourinho’s side are much improved too and this is likely to be much tighter. The temptation is to go for United, simply because the odds look too big.
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