09 December 2013

FA Cup draw yields a North London Derby

Conspiracy theorists would have a field-day with this one as, for the second time in as many domestic cups, we've drawn another Prem League rival earlier than might be expected. First, in the League Cup, we went from facing relegation-threatened West Brom to facing Chelsea in the next round. Stretching back further, we might as well include the Champions League group stage draw, which puts us into a Group of Death of sorts with two other teams with legitimate aspirations of progress. In Dortmund's case, they might even have had realistic aspirations of returning to the championship match. Now, the draw for the FA Cup pits us, not against Watford or Stevenage or Preston but against Spurs.

Some of the fainter of heart or lilier of livered might wring their hands and rue such a draw, pointing especially to those of other rivals who have drawn weaker opponents: Chelsea (Derby), Man City (Blackburn), Liverpool (Oldham or Mansfield), Everton (QPR), and Swansea (Man U). Feh. We're made of sterner stuff than that. Bring on the Spurs, I say. I think the conspiracy-shoe is on the other foot—it's Villas-Boas and whoever plays for Spurs these days who are quaking in their boots (as always, sorry to mix metaphors).

That’s not to say that Spurs will be easy. If anything, they may have found some rhythm by the time we face each other in January. After all, they’ve lost their most talismanic player of the last decade (or more) and brought in a slew new players in the last two years, most of whom log heavy minutes. There’s bound to be an adjustment-period. We can scoff and snort all we want about their inability to score from open-play or how much we enjoy Spursday nights and more, but drawing them in the FA Cup is a bit more perilous than, say, Blackburn or Bradford or Birmingham. That said, we all know how those draws turned out, which proves two ideas, one temporary and the other transcendent.

The temporary one is that our form in recent years was, to put it mildly, uneven.  How else to explain how, last season, we were dumped out of not one but two domestic cups by clubs who spend less on their entire squad’s wage-bill than we might spend on one or two players, but we also went on to defeat Bayern in their house? The point here is that it matters little who’s in front of us if we play how we are capable of playing. 

I’m not going to debate Spurs’ quality relative to Bradford or Bayern. What I’m trying to say is that, in the past, we’ve shown that we can play up—or down—to almost any club we face. This season, though, feels a bit different even if we take into account the losses to Villa, Man U, and Chelsea. Each had its extenuating circumstances. This, then, is the temporary matter. Our form wavered and may waver again.

The more-important point, the transcendent one, is this: part of the beauty of the FA Cup and the League Cup is that they pit the biggest of the bigs against the smallest of the smalls, and anything can happen (although the predictable usually has its day). In recent years,  we've lost to Bradford. And Blackburn. And Birmingham. Looking further afield, Wigan defeated Man City to win the FA Cup and Swansea, new to the Prem as of 2011, won the League Cup. Yes, it’s going to be a cakewalk for some Prem club or another nine times out of ten, but that tenth time is something glorious and historic.

Just not for Spurs this time ‘round. This won’t be their year for upending a bigger, better club. They claimed a 2-1 win last March and Villas-Boas crowed that we were in a death-spiral. We all know how that turned out. I won’t go so far as to say we'll hang another 5-2 scoreline on them, but I will suggest that we can pencil in a fourth-round FA Cup date. Who knows? Maybe we’ll face Southend or Leyton Orient or some other club with legimitate designs on silverware.