LONDON, January 7 – The FA Cup still holds the same allure for Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech as he embarks upon his quest for a fifth success in the 145-year-old competition this weekend.
A four-time FA Cup winner with Chelsea, Cech is hoping to help Arsenal win the FA Cup for the third year running — a feat last achieved by Blackburn Rovers between 1884 and 1886.
With Arsenal top of the Premier League and chasing a first league title since 2004, they could be forgiven for wanting to manage their resources, but Cech only has eyes for Saturday’s home game with Sunderland.
“I always love to play the FA Cup, no matter the team we play, because it is always special to be involved,” the Czech international, 33, told the Arsenal website.
“The second reason is if you play in the final or semi-final, you get to play at Wembley Stadium. You always play big games there.
“This means once you go to the game you have this pressure, tension and atmosphere, so they are always the games you look forward to playing in and that is why the FA Cup is special for me.”
The visit of Sunderland, second from bottom in the Premier League, to the Emirates Stadium is one of five all-top-flight ties in round three.
Manchester City, three points below Arsenal in the league, visit Norwich City, while high-flying Leicester City visit fourth-place Tottenham Hotspur.
Leicester will be without 15-goal top scorer Jamie Vardy, who is due to undergo minor groin surgery, but the England striker is expected to be fit for the teams’ reunion in the league three days later.
The other all-Premier League affairs see Southampton host Crystal Palace and Newcastle United visit Watford.
– ‘Give it a go’ –
The action begins on Friday with a classic contest between haves and have-nots as Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool visit Exeter City, who currently sit in 16th place in England’s fourth tier.
Exeter memorably held Manchester United to a 0-0 draw at Old Trafford 11 years ago and manager Paul Tisdale, who joined the club a year later, has vowed that they will not be overawed by Liverpool.
“We need to go out and give it a go and get the balance right between risk and reward,” he said. “Win, lose or draw, we want to finish the game having given a good and positive account of ourselves.”
Manchester United also face lower-league opposition in the form of third-tier cup specialists Sheffield United, who reached the League Cup semi-finals last season and the FA Cup last four the year before.
League champions Chelsea, meanwhile, have a home game with Scunthorpe United, as interim manager Guus Hiddink looks to emulate his feat of 2009 by leading the west London club to FA Cup glory.
“We can go far in the FA Cup and hopefully we can win it,” says goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, whose side continue to flounder in 14th place in the league.
“With the FA Cup and Champions League it can still be a positive season, especially if we end up in the top four in the league.”
Perhaps the best chance of an upset will be at Ten Acres on the south coast, modest home of fifth-tier Eastleigh, the lowest-ranked team left in the tournament.
The non-league side host four-time FA Cup winners Bolton Wanderers, who are bottom of the Championship and on the brink of bankruptcy.
Friday (1955 GMT):
Exeter City v Liverpool
Saturday (1500 GMT unless otherwise stated):
Arsenal v Sunderland, Birmingham City v Bournemouth, Brentford v Walsall, Bury v Bradford City, Colchester United v Charlton Athletic, Doncaster Rovers v Stoke City, Eastleigh v Bolton Wanderers, Everton v Dagenham and Redbridge, Hartlepool United v Derby County, Huddersfield Town v Reading, Hull City v Brighton and Hove Albion, Ipswich Town v Portsmouth, Leeds United v Rotherham United, Manchester United v Sheffield United (1730 GMT), Middlesbrough v Burnley, Newport County v Blackburn Rovers, Northampton Town v Milton Keynes Dons, Norwich City v Manchester City, Nottingham Forest v Queens Park Rangers, Peterborough United v Preston North End, Sheffield Wednesday v Fulham, Southampton v Crystal Palace, Watford v Newcastle United, West Bromwich Albion v Bristol City, West Ham United v Wolverhampton Wanderers, Wycombe Wanderers v Aston Villa (1245 GMT)
Sunday (1400 GMT unless otherwise stated):
Cardiff City v Shrewsbury Town (1800 GMT), Carlisle United v Yeovil Town, Chelsea v Scunthorpe United, Oxford United v Swansea City (1200), Tottenham Hotspur v Leicester City (1600 GMT)