Tuesday 24 October 2017

Second strings highlight trouble with tradition

Arsenal 0 Hull 0

Hull City’s David Meyler rues a missed chance in the FA Cup stalemate at Arsenaland Photo: PA
Hull City’s David Meyler rues a missed chance in the FA Cup stalemate at Arsenaland Photo: PA
Arsenal's English defender Calum Chambers (C) tries to shoot past Hull City's Swiss goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic (3R) Photo: AFP/Getty
Sone Aluko (C) of Hull City controls the ball under pressure of Kieran Gibbs (L) and Laurent Koscielny (R) Photo: Getty

Dion Fanning

Arsene Wenger made a spirited defence of the FA Cup last week. The Arsenal manager described the competition as "the most traditional in England" after it was reported that Premier League clubs were discussing scrapping replays and moving the fixtures to midweek.

Wenger remains committed to the cup, which Arsenal have won for the past two years, but he made nine changes yesterday from the side which had beaten Leicester City last weekend.

Arsenal have a more important game on Tuesday night when Barcelona play at the Emirates, while Hull have other priorities too. A scoreless draw at the Emirates yesterday ensured a replay, but both managers spent more time talking about the competition's format.

Arsenal now look to games with real meaning when Barcelona come to town before they play at Old Trafford next weekend. "We were favourites today," Wenger said. "But we won't be on Tuesday night."

In the end, Hull relied on their number two goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic to keep them in the competition, but Steve Bruce wondered afterwards why they had to find space for a replay.

"There's nobody more traditionalist than me when it comes to the FA Cup, but why do we have to have a replay?"

Hull are determined to return to the Premier League so Bruce had made 10 changes to the team which had drawn with Brighton in midweek.

Wenger said the "nightmare" was not a replay but being knocked out of the competition. But if that was the case, he would have picked his strongest team.

While everyone is fond of the tradition of the FA Cup - and there is nobody more traditionalist than Brucey - the truth could be found in the line-ups. For Arsenal, Hull and many more clubs other things matter more. The FA Cup only has tradition because it once had meaning. Without it, the tradition is worthless. The challenge is not to preserve the tradition but to increase its meaning once again. Bruce talked about the final in 2014 as "the biggest day of our lives", but Hull are top of the Championship and want nothing to jeopardise a chance of returning to the Premier League.

The approach at the Emirates will be repeated elsewhere this weekend. Manchester City's visit to Chelsea today should be a compelling contest, but City will play a reserve side and Manuel Pellegrini acknowledged last week that it won't be a "real game" when one team is experimenting. City feel they have no option after the game was chosen for the Sunday slot on TV when they have a Champions League game on Wednesday.

Some will see that as another example of the biggest clubs in England's refusing to engage with those outside their circle. The FA Cup provides revenue for the fortunate club which might have a tie at Anfield or Old Trafford, but that in itself is hardly a compelling reason not to change.

When people recall the great moments of the FA Cup, they will talk about Ronnie Radford, Bob Stokoe's dance and Ricky Villa's goal. They are unlikely to become misty-eyed about the night Exeter got their share of the gate receipts from Anfield. The lower league teams would have a better chance of progressing - and making more money - if the games were one-offs.

In the opening minutes yesterday, Arsenal looked as if they could win the game easily. Alex Iwobi made an impression, a reminder that the FA Cup can be useful as a platform for some of the players hoarded by the bigger clubs.

In the second half, David Meyler could have given away a penalty for a challenge on Calum Chambers, before Iwobi shot narrowly wide.

Jakupovic then brilliantly touched a Joel Campbell free-kick on to the post and also somehow kept out a Danny Welbeck shot which took a deflection on its way towards goal.

Hull were making some attempt to win the game and Sone Aluko was unlucky to be given offside twice when he found himself in front of goal but neither side could escape the general sense of apathy. Jakupovic saved superbly from Alexis Sanchez, who had been sent on along with Olivier Giroud in an attempt to put an end to the damn thing.

The replay will be more exciting. People will then wonder why the clubs want to scrap replays when the point is they should get to the replays quicker. Cleaving to tradition is doing more damage to the FA Cup than anything else.

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