The FA Cup has been dominated by the supposed ‘big four’ for over ten years. However, last year, audiences revelled in having three lower league teams – Barnsley, West Bromwich Albion and Cardiff City – and ‘lesser’ Premiership team Portsmouth in the semi-finals.
The 2008/2009 FA Cup has reverted to a more familiar line-up for the semi-finals. Manchester United and Chelsea are already in the semi-finals and Arsenal look set to join them.
People may dismay that the FA Cup has fallen back into the habit of catering to the ‘big four’, but could this dominance be good for English football?
If Arsenal beat Hull City on Tuesday March 17, then the FA Cup winners will most probably be the recipients of a Champions League or UEFA Cup (to be the UEFA Europa League from 2009/2010) through their involvement in the Premier League. With Manchester United lifting the Carling Cup, the UEFA Cup, sorry Europa League, spot goes to the 6th placed Premiership team, which is currently comfortably held by Everton.
This means that the UEFA spot that would go the the FA Cup winners funnels down to the team that finishes 7th in the Premiership. At the moment that would be West Ham, but they have Man City, Wigan and Fulham chasing them.
In my opinion, this would be a better outcome as it relies on the strength of a team throughout the season (although theses teams could still be easily sucked into a relegation fight), rather than their ability to luck it to a cup final like Sunderland in 1992, Millwall in 2004 and Cardiff last year. It also provides more competition in the Premier League. With only one official Europa League slot to the 5th placed team, and Arsenal and Aston Villa effectively fighting for that, 6th-15th makes no real difference (prize money aside) to a team and many of the Premiership fixtures could fizzle out. With another two places and points now all important, teams up their game and fans get more for their money.
As long as Everton don’t implode, fall out of the top half and win the FA Cup.