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In a world full of change it is nice to know that some things never change and that was evident this past weekend as the magic of the FA Cup was on show once again.
Gone are Tottenham, gone are Everton, gone are Arsenal and gone are West Ham. At least three of those exits were deemed to be shocks and those teams have previously won the FA Cup on 29 occasions, a 30th time will have to wait.
Train just keeps rolling
The first of the four Premier League teams to exit was Arsenal on Friday night. They had to play Manchester United, a resurgent United side who have gone from one of the most depressing playing teams in the league to one of the most joyful since the arrival of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Still United had to travel to The Emirates and Arsenal were still arguably favourites to get to the 5th round, but the train just keeps rolling and United ran out 3-1 winners and never looked in danger. It means that The Gunners will end up trophyless yet again unless they can win the Europa League.
VAR and Zonal Marking
Onto the first big upset, and Everton who had exited the Carabao Cup prematurely did the same in the FA Cup as they disappointingly lost to Millwall 3-2. Perhaps the most worrying aspect is that Marco Silva's team had taken the lead twice in the game, yet 3 goals all from set pieces were enough for Millwall to snatch victory. Still Everton can feel somewhat frustrated at the result given that Millwall's 2nd goal was a clear handball. The officials made a grave error and it is jarring that VAR was used at the weekend in the cup but only in six matches, jarring even more when you find out Everton's game was not one sufficent for VAR even though it was televised live.
Having said that, Millwall deserved to take somthing from the game, showing more passion and fight in the end than the visitors. Marco Silva's zonal marking policy came under further scrutiny, and rightly so, conceding 3 goals from set pieces certainly shows something is not working. However, it was clear to see that the Everton players need to be more aggressive when challenging for balls. Also, you can't help but wonder if a taller goal keeper would be a little more assertive in coming out to claim the ball when crossed in from a corner or free kick, which may take the pressure of the defenders somewhat. Either way, things need to improve on defending set pieces.
Hammers impossible to predict
Later that same night West Ham went to AFC Wimbledon and collapsed. The Hammers were 2-0 down by half time forcing manager Manuel Pellegrini to make three changes, that resulted in AFC Wimbeldon adding a 3rd within sixty seconds of the 2nd half. The Hammers did come back into the game pulling the score back to 3-2, but for good measure the home side added a 4th near the end to cap the end of West Ham's competitve season.
Top 4 more important than trophies?
Finally, Crystal Palace eased to a 2-0 victory over Tottenham on Sunday, meaning that the North London club had exited two cup competitions in the space of a week. Indeed it has been a nightmare week for Spurs who also lost Harry Kane and Dele Alli to injury. The only good news is that Son will be back in midweek after his Asia Cup ended earlier than expected when Qatar stunned South Korea.
But how will Tottenham fans react from the words that were delivered by manager Mauricio Pochettino after the game? The Argentine said that finishing in the top 4 is more important than winning trophies, and silverware can give players egos. His words seemed puzzling and were underlined in that way when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer the following day said that a top 4 finish is not good enough for Manchester United and they want to win the FA Cup and any other competitions they are involved in. That sounds like music to any United fan and surely that is what you want your coach to be saying.
Currently Tottenham are mixing it with the very best of the Premier League, but have a look at the Manchester clubs, who clearly are winners. Manchester City have scored 20 goals in their last four cup matches albeit against inferior opposition, but that's the point, Pep Guardiola's side showed no mercy. One has to question if the Premier League sides who exited the cup at the weekend had the same passion, desire and hunger?