31 January 2016

So we've drawn Hull for the FA Cup fifth round, eh? Long may we be their Bayern...

Well, well, well. So we meet again. "Hello darkness, my old friend" and all that. The FA Cup's fifth round draw pits us once again against Hull City, they of the 0-2 up to 3-2 down in the 2014 final and the somewhat meeker 2-0 loss in the 2014-15 fourth round. At this rate, they'll be talking about us the way we talk about Bayern—if they aren't already. It's now three consecutive seasons in which we've faced off in the FA Cup, and, without making too much of it, the previous two have ended in glorious fashion for us. To face Hull in the fifth round hardly anoints Arsenal in any serious fashion, but it does augur well, I'll say that.

Speaking of augurs and omens, it's worth noting that other Prem sides have tough roads to hoe. Chelsea host Man City, Tottenham host Crystal Palace, Everton travel to Bournemouth (Benik? are you there?), and Liverpool have to endure a replay after drawing at West Ham, the winner going to Championship-side Blackburn. None of this amounts to hoping that key rivals crash out; after all, we permit the paradox of hoping our rivals persist in this and other competitions in order to undermine them in the Prem while we ourselves hope to do the same without suffering the same. Somewhere in there lurks a Zen koan.

Speaking of Zen koans, if a player is loaned out to a lower-tier side that will then face his parent-club, does he make an appearance? Chuba Akpom and Isaac Hayden have been loaned to Hull, so are they available to Steve Bruce? Ordinarily, the answer would be a clear-cut no because loaness cannot face the club that owns their registration in league play, but the FA Cup isn't league play. Neither Akpom nor Hayden played for us in the FA Cup, so they would each be eligible—unless their loan-deals include stipulations against them facing us. In other words, they're not cup-tied, but their availability would depend on the specific terms of their loan-deals. Akpom, as somewhat-more seasoned player, might have language that prevents him from facing us, but Hayden, who has only two League Cup appearances for Arsenal under his belt, might have fewer restrictions. We'll have to wait and see.

None of this amounts to asking for a path of least resistance. After all, following the path of least resistance is what makes a river crooked. Nonetheless, it's intriguing to see that most of our Prem rivals will face each other (or at least have to navigate trickier paths) on their way to the quarterfinal. Before any of that matters, of course, we have to see off Hull. Those who might content themselves by suggesting that Hull will look past the FA Cup in order to focus on promotion by winning the Championship should check their brains at the door if they haven't left them at home for safekeeping. Burnley gave us a run for our money, and Hull thrashed them 3-0. Bruce has more than enough in the manner of hungry, talented players available without worrying about the particulars surrounding Akpom or Hayden. Add in the thirst for vengeance that he and many in that squad must feel after 2014's final, and we may have the makings of a true barn-burner...