A non-league team has never reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup in the modern era of four main professional divisions and a non-league structure. If Lincoln beat Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday it would be the biggest shock in the history of the competition and surely the final nail in the coffin of the Arsene Wenger era. While Arsenal were losing 10-2 on aggregate to Bayern Munich in the Champions league Lincoln won their latest fixture in the National League 4-0.
Lincoln are six points clear at the top of the National League and will be playing in League Two next season. They have won four of their last five league fixtures and drew the other one. In 34 matches they have scored 67 goals and conceded 32 so they are not watertight at the back. It seems inconceivable that a Premier league team playing at home will not rack up the goals but this is Arsenal!
Fans are now more vocal on social media and Arsenal TV pundits have been calling for the departure of Wenger for most of the season. He has a proud record of getting Arsenal into the Champions League in every season since his arrival in 1996. However, Arsenal have been eliminated at the last 16 stage in each of the last seven seasons. Former players now say their old boss looks lost and a dignified exit in the summer is the least Wenger deserves.
However, his last season in charge could be remembered for arguably the worst result for a Premier League club in FA Cup history if Lincoln avoid defeat. They are a well-organised outfit and something good is happening at the club but this is one miracle too far. Arsenal do not have the confidence to win by a cricket score so backing them giving up two goals in the handicap market looks the way to go.
There is a good chance that the last four of the FA Cup will involve the superpowers from North London and Manchester though Chelsea may have something to say about that. United visit Stamford Bridge on Monday night and the Jose Mourinho subplot but avoiding defeat and taking the Blues to a replay at Old Trafford is achievable. United have not lost a meaningful match in any competition since the 4-0 humiliation at Chelsea last October.
This season’s FA Cup is going to form bar Lincoln’s progress. In the Premier League era only two teams from outside the top division have made the final and no side below the top level have won the Cup. The average finishing position of the FA Cup winners is fifth in the Premier League and the losing finalists averaged ninth place in that division. The cream usually comes to the top at the business end and that is why the Lincoln story has done so much for the Cup.
The two Manchester clubs have never contested a major final but that could happen this season. United should have too much hunger for a Chelsea team that will win the Premier League. Mourinho will be beside himself and determined not to falter at a place where he was loved during two successful spells. Deep down the job he craved most was at United and he could lead them to a Cup treble this season. His old club are the latest obstacle to the EFL Cup, FA Cup and Europa League clean sweep but they can be overcome on the way to another trip to Wembley. Mourinho can lead United to the Europa League Cup Final in the Swedish city of Solna in May.
The favourites should oblige in the other two ties which means there will be no team from outside the Premier League in the semi-finals. It would be totally incongruous to see Lincoln still in the mix at that stage but all the neutrals and maybe some Arsenal stalwarts would love to see it happen. However, the romance of the Cup will not apply when Tottenham beat Millwall at home and Manchester City win at Middlesbrough. That means several permutations involving rivals from the north of London and the city of Manchester.
However, nothing is certain in sport and there is just that slight chance that Lincoln could embarrass Arsenal which would surely be the final ignominy for Arsene Wenger. In the other ties the Manchester clubs and Tottenham can go marching on to Wembley.