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Up for the Cup

Charlie George scores one of a brace against Citeh in the 1970/71 FA Cup 5th Round 2-1 “massacre” at Maine Road, Manchester. From www.citytilidie.com

And so to an FA Cup fourth-round tie at the Oillands, where the colour of money is sky blue.

There is a story that Manchester City plays in sky blue and white because when its predecessor club, Ardwick AFC, was in financial straits, Freemasons bailed it out. As a condition or a thank you for the money, the team ditched their red and black shirts for the then colours of Freemasonry. Only circumstantial evidence supports this story. Yet if it is true, the apple has never fallen far from that tree.

Our FA Cup record against City is excellent: played five; won four. The lone loss was in the first tie at the Manor Ground in 1904 when we were still Woolwich Arsenal. City went on to win the Cup for the first time that season, beating fellow Lancastrians Bolton Wanderers 1-0.

The next encounter was a semi-final at Villa Park in 1932. We won 1-0, Cliff ‘Boy’ Bastin scoring against a City side containing Matt Busby, later to have a storied managerial career on the red side of Manchester. However, at Wembley, we lost the notorious’ Over The Line’ final 2-1 to Newcastle United.

The three remaining games will be within the living memory of the more senior members of this fine establishment, at least those not having senior moments. 

A Charlie George brace got us through a fifth-round tie at Maine Road on our way to the double in 1971. That was our fourth FA Cup success. The next time we played City in the Cup would be in 2017, on our way to winning the Cup for a record-breaking 13th time and a 20th appearance in an FA Cup Final, also a record. 

That was the first season in his managerial career that Pep Guardiola did not win a trophy. We had dispatched his team in the semi-final, 2-1, after extra time.

The fifth meeting was also a semi-final, played behind closed doors in July 2020 during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored goals in those days, and a brace saw off City again. Another brace brought our 14th FA Cup at the expense of the mob from the Bus Stop.

So history suggests good things happen after beating City in the Cup. Now, correlation is not causality, and the sample size is small. Most of all, the condition is testing, beating City. Outside the FA Cup, you have to go back 16 games, to December 2015, since we have done that in any other competition, a 2-1 league win at the Emirates in which Theo Walcott scored his 100th goal for the club.

The opposition

Emirati petrodollars have assembled the most expensive squad in the Premier League, valued at shy of £1 billion. However, money buys quality throughout a squad unless you are congenitally bad at spending it (Exhibits A and B: the Mancs and the Chavs). City is not. It is hard to think of many significant missteps they have made in the transfer market. Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko were all sold as they entered the prime of their careers without the City squad being left noticeably weaker by their departures (whereas ours has benefitted hugely from the arrival of the latter two. Let us hope that City bitterly regrets those sales come May).

In Pep Guardiola, they have the most innovative manager in the world, or at least until Super Mik dethrones him — and Arteta has a ways to go to catch up with his friend’s 30-some major trophies.

City will likely line up in a nominal 4-3-3, although Pep has been more varied in his formations this season, even using a back three on occasion. But that means little. He uses the same possession plus positional play blueprint that Arteta has adopted and developed. However they line up, City will morph into 3-2-5 with the ball and 4-5-1 without it, not that Pep tolerates City being out of possession for long. 

Cup keeper Stefan Ortega and Erling Haarland up front will be the only fixed points. Between them will be some combination of Kevin de Bruyne, Riyad Mahrez, Bernardo Silva, Phil Foden (if fit), Jack Grealish, Ilkay Gundogan and Rhodri in front of a defence of Kyle Walker (with the impressive young Rico Lewis being rested), Manuel Akanji, John Stones and Nathan Ake. That would still leave a bench of Lewis, Julian Alvarez, Cole Palmer, Kelvin Phillips, Sergio Gomez, Joao Cancelo and Aymeric Laporte to call on. Serious depth.

Any one or more of them could start if the master micro tactician sees a scintilla of an advantage to be gained by negating an Arsenal strength. Given that the two teams will be playing to the same blueprint, the game could turn on which one is better at closing down or exploiting the pockets of space between the other side’s defence and midfield to nullify the overloads. We shall need Partey at his most imperious, Ødegaard at his most creative and Xhaka at his most Xhaka (and Gabriel to keep Haaland in his pocket). This will be a game of two teams trying to out-possess, out-pass and out-overload the other. Intensity will be all.

The Arsenal

This game rounds out a demanding January that we have so far navigated more satisfactorily than many may have secretly expected.

I feel that Arteta will go with a close approximation of his strongest team available to keep the momentum from last Sunday going and because Pep will probably do the same.

Cup keeper Turner will likely replace Ramsdale. Trossard for Martinelli is a possible rotation, but I’ll punt that Arteta will stick not twist. White or Tomiyasu at right-back will be a question. If Mahrez played on the left, I would say Tomi to start, but Benny Blanco might be the better man to blank de Breuyne and Grealish, although second-guessing Pep’s team selection is a fool’s errand. The human chess match will come as the two managers make substitutions and tweak their in-game tactics.

Thus, to start:


White, Saliba, Gabriel, Zinchenko

Partey, Ødegaard, Xhaka

Saka, Nketiah, Martinelli

More rides on the outcome of this game than which club progress to the Fifth Round. Both managers publicly disassociated the Cup tie from the league games, but both know that the winner on Friday lays down a marker for the subsequent two matches that may decide whether the title ends up north or south of Watford.

The ‘holic pound

The gentlemen of the turf have City as odds-on favourite, so any away win offers decent odds. A scintillating 2-1 victory to the men in red and white looks appealing at 15s. 

There will be 7,802 travelling faithful, loud and proud, packed into the top two tiers of the South Stand. At the end of the game, may they be looking down on the City fans below in every way.

Enjoy the game ‘holics, near and far.

41 Drinks to “Up for the Cup”

  1. 1
    bt8 says:

    Good to see the monks getting after the Freemasons. 😎

    Now onward to finish this fascinating history lesson.

  2. 2
    bt8 says:

    Thanks Ned for the history and insightful analysis of this Cup tie. Pep may be accomplished but Mikel certainly appears to be following in his footsteps. I agree that more rides on this than the result alone. COYG

  3. 3
    TTG says:

    Thankyou for your usual detailed and highly entertaining preview . I have a feeling Trossard may start in place of Martinelli . Otherwise we will go for a strong team and this will be a committed game .
    Frankly unlike most years when I regard the FA Cup as a key part of our season , I’m fairly relaxed about this tie. I’d love us to win but the title is a much bigger target and avoiding injuries is paramount. It should b a great game and I hope we can win it, without a replay

  4. 4
    Sancho Panza says:

    That’s a fabulous picture to head the post. Charlie is the only one that looks like he’s doing anything. The rest are just standing around.

  5. 5
    bt8 says:

    Sancho I think the other players are stationery because it was George’s free kick, goal #1 of 2 in this clip: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=IgZBXKYJBuo

  6. 6
    bt8 says:

    Michail Antonio seems to think our Eddie is something special. Can’t really argue.


  7. 7
    TTG says:

    That 1971 game was pivotal in the Double season. Man City were avery good team then. The first game was postponed but if you look at the video the pitch was diabolical . Charlie had just come back into the team after breaking his leg in the first match of the season at Everton .
    The players committed to going for the Double after this match . Bertie Mee sat them down and spelt out how big the opportunity was . It was the first time since I supported Arsenal in my life tgat they got beyond the fifth round .

  8. 8
    scruzgooner says:

    spectacular, ned, as spectacular for us as i hope our win will be tomorrow. laying down a marker, indeed. unless we lose, then it’s just the cup 🙂

    though, as ttg says about the ’71 double winners, maybe a win will be the focusing point for going for another double, some 52 years later. wouldn’t that make bob and pat and the skipper proud!

  9. 9
    Bathgooner says:

    Thanks Ned for a great preview with well researched historical references. As a reward for that exemplary work in the archives, I really think you could spare the monks just one evening of chastisement and the addition of a flagon of ale might not be too generous.

    I am certain that MA8 will ring some few changes and I believe Trossard will get his first start for the Arsenal in place of Martinelli, Turner will replace Ramsdale whilst Tomiyasu may start in place of Benjamin White. I suspect Zinchenko is now so important to our system that KT3 won’t start though he will almost certainly finish. I can’t see us weakening our central defence either. Vieira may possibly start for Saka but he cannot in truth replace our little genius and he certainly cannot replace Ødegaard’s brilliant string-pulling. I also expect Nketiah to play as we have no-one else on whom we can rely to fulfil that role – save perhaps in a few weeks, Trossard. As we also have no-one to replace TP5, he has to be risked – I pray that he doesn’t get crocked by Rodri with a strategic eye to handicapping us in the run-in. With Xhaka we can hope he will remain indestructible.

    With two critical league games against Citeh on the horizon, this is the worst cup draw that we could have been given. Hence with those games in mind, we must play a strong team and ensure that this is a hard fought encounter from which we lose neither self belief nor momentum. A rerun of that 1971 5th round tie performance and result would be delicious.

  10. 10
    OsakaMatt says:

    Thanks Ned, an excellent preview encapsulating the history of the oldest cup as well as the intricacies of the modern transfer market. Shitteh are usually quite smart in the latter as you say and I am surprised they sold us Jesus and Zin really – don’t strengthen your competitors being a general rule. I’d guess they simply misjudged the impact those signings would have.

  11. 11
    bt8 says:

    It will be interesting to observe the differences and similarities between this weekend’s game and the January 2022 league game between these two clubs when Arsenal played so well only to lose unluckily.


  12. 12
    OsakaMatt says:

    As for the game, I see it as a free hit to be honest and I would certainly rest Aaron, Zin, TP5, Odey, Saka, Eddie and one of the CBs. All the pressure is on Shitteh as the home team and supposedly in many eyes the ‘best’ team in the country with the greatest squad depth. We’ve already shown we have the character to bounce back this season and I am not worried on that score, injuries are the bigger risk now and also it would be good for Turner, Tierney, Tomi, Rob, Sambi, Vieira, ESR and Trossard to get game time in a high level match. We will need them all for the Ropey League later and may as well let them play now. No reason we can’t get a result as it’s the cup, a one-off game and Shitteh aren’t as good as the media think. 1-0 to the Arsenal!

  13. 13
    bt8 says:

    There are strong arguments on both sides for playing our strongest team or for using this game as a ‘free hit’ as OM suggests above. We certainly need to put the strongest focus on the league but it can be argued that playing our strongest team is the way to prevent a loss of momentum and confidence. I lean toward the latter but just hope Mikel comes up with the right solution.

  14. 14
    scruzgooner says:

    esr reportedly not on the coach to manchester.

  15. 15
    Doctor Faustus says:

    Equally soaked in history and optimism Ned, thank you for the excellent preview!

    The starting eleven can have equally persuasive arguments both for and against choosing the league team. Turner, Tierney and Trossard may get the nod, also Tomiyasu. It’s just a very odd coincidence that their surnames all start with T.

    Enjoy the match everyone!

    Come on Arsenal!

  16. 16
    Ollie says:

    Cheers Ned. Great historical piece keeping up the traditions.
    I don’t know what to expect tonight, I hope we win, but failing that, no injury and no battering will leave me at peace.
    Good luck to the travelling contingent!

  17. 17
    BtM says:

    Excellent, Ned. I’m persuaded that we’ll start with our strongest eleven on the day rather than a shadow version. I’ll be attending a Burns Supper and so will have to watch ‘on tape’ later in the evening. Sadly, mobile phone technology recently reached the Kingdom and it’s unlikely that some well meaning fellow won’t let me know the score before I do.

  18. 18
    Trev says:

    Thanks Ned – the usual excellent mix of history and reasoning for the job at hand.

    I agree that we will go strong on the selection. Some folks say bun the FA Cup this season as we are in with a chance of the league title but I just can’t imagine Arteta doing that – especially in Pep’s back yard.

  19. 19
    North Bank Ned says:

    Thanks all. I don’t think Trossard will start, but I would not be surprised if he did.

    OM@10: The monks came across some intelligence from a source of unknown reliability that City, on several occasions, had been prepared to sell Zinchenko, but he didn’t fancy any of the offers until Arteta came calling.

    TTG@7: That old Maine Road pitch was like a beach in a pig farm, half mud and half sand.

    Bath@9: Don’t give them ideas. 🙂

  20. 20
    North Bank Ned says:

    Is Caicedo really worth upwards of £60 million? It seems an awful lot for a 21-year-old unless he is seen as a nailed-on Partey/Xhaka successor.


  21. 21
    TTG says:

    Martinelli extends for four and a half years !
    I think Caicedo is Plan A but we will pivot to Zubamendi by paying his release clause a la Partey if he’s not available . We won’t leave this window without another midfielder

  22. 22
    Esso says:

    Cheers Ned! Cricket finished spot on time. Wrong result though.

  23. 23
    Esso says:

  24. 24
    Esso says:

    Quite heavy rotation?

  25. 25
    Esso says:

    Arsenal: Turner, Tomiyasu, Holding, Gabriel, Tierney, Xhaka, Partey, Vieira, Trossard, Saka, Nketiah

    Subs: Ramsdale, White, Zinchenko, Saliba, Kiwior, Lokonga, Odegaard, Marquinhos, Martinelli

  26. 26
    Esso says:

    but a strong bench

  27. 27
    Esso says:

    Man City: Ortega Moreno, Lewis, Stones, Akanji, Ake, Rodrigo, De Bruyne, Gundogan, Mahrez, Grealish, Haaland

    Subs: Ederson, Walker, Dias, Phillips, Cancelo, Laporte, Alvarez, Bernardo, Palme

  28. 28
    TTG says:

    Holding v Haaland – eek !
    That said we haven’t got the right options yet.Our squad needs better balance but it doesn’t come overnight. Very interested to see how effective Vieira can be against this mob

  29. 29
    Doctor Faustus says:

    All the Ts are playing, as predicted. 🙂
    Come on Arsenal!

  30. 30
    Esso says:

    Booooooooooooooo. Shit result. But overall performance did us little harm in my opinion.

  31. 31
    North Bank Ned says:

    The chances were there to have won it, but City closed out the game like the old pros they are after getting the goal.

  32. 32
    ecg says:

    I thought we played we really well, especially given the numbers of changes to the squad. City clearly have greater depth but I will bet on our first team against their first team any day. I’m looking forward to our match at home in a couple of weeks.

  33. 33
    North Bank Ned says:

    It is worth tecalling that we lost 5-0 on our last visit there. So progress.

  34. 34
    OsakaMatt says:

    Yeah, we are much, much better than then and we kept 11 men which helps!
    Just didn’t take our chances unfortunately, pity as we played really well.
    But the biggest worry is Partey now. Fingers crossed of course though reinforcements seem to be on the way.

  35. 35
    ClockEndRider says:

    Can’t wait for C100’s match report. For my part, it was a great day from beginning to end. Away mob sang from start to finish. Wrong result but nobody cared because quite clearly the gap has closed. I wrote the report of our PL visit in August 2021 where we were absolutely humped and it was embarrassing. The progress we have made in 18 months is quite extraordinary.
    Finally, a note to commend the organisation at the Etihad. Loads of stewards who treated us really well. At the same time I don’t think I’ve ever seen more police at a match which seemed massive overkill. It was as though all of GMP was there. I didn’t see any trouble so this just looked like an excuse to load up on overtime, to me. The crims in Greater Manchester must have had a field day last night as there can’t have been any police on the streets outside of East Manchester. Bizarre.
    Anyway, finally reached home , sweet home at 3.20 am. I think I’ll take it easy today…

  36. 36
    Ollie says:

    What Esso said at 30.
    Good stuff CER, good day to put your feet up. Waiting for C100’s report from the frontline too.

  37. 37
    Bathgooner says:

    What ecg said @32 and props to the travelling Gooners. Pep is right to be concerned about his home crowd.

  38. 38
    North Bank Ned says:

    CER@35: Policing was stepped up because of the incidents in the third round, with Chelsea fans throwing things down on the City fans below. It seems an odd arrangement to have the away fans in the top two tiers of a stand and home fans in the bottom tier, but that was judged still the safest arrangement available. Glad you made it home safely.

  39. 39
    North Bank Ned says:

    A Sparta Prague player wore a bodycam in a friendly.

    This could take VAR to another dimension…

  40. 40
    Countryman100 says:

    Apologies all. My match report was written several hours ago but we don’t currently have any techies available to put the post up. It’ll be there in due course.

  41. 41
    Pangloss says: