Arsenal and Manchester City are both heavy favourites to win their respective FA Cup ties on Saturday, and both could win comfortably. The Gunners, fresh from another 5-1 humiliation at the hands of Bayern Munich, welcome non-league Lincoln to the Emirates for their quarter final. Meanwhile Manchester City, on the verge of a Champions League rematch with Monaco, must first overcome Middlesbrough on the road in their quarter final.
The bookmakers are taking no chances on either of the big sides safely navigating their way to the semi finals, but that leaves the door open to oppose them – or at least to oppose heavy scorelines.
Top of the Vanarama National League Lincoln beat Burnley at Turf Moor in the fifth round, a quite brilliant result at one of the Premier League’s best home sides. That came off the back of victories over Championship sides Brighton and Ipswich, and the Imps are having a season that will live long in the memory. The Gunners laboured to a 2-0 win over Lincoln’s fellow National League side, Sutton, in the fifth round – a game that unfortunately will be remembered for the ‘piegate’ betting scandal.
Manchester City thumped West Ham 5-0 and Crystal Palace 3-0 away from home in the first two rounds of the competition, but were held to a 0-0 draw at Huddersfield in the fifth round. They thrashed the Terriers 5-1 in the replay at the Etihad, but come up against a well-organised team in Middlesbrough on the eve of their return match versus Monaco. The Teesiders have slipped into the Premier League relegation zone, but held Man City to a 1-1 draw in Manchester as recently as November, and are unbeaten at home in four games.
Arsenal v Lincoln
BetVictor are offering odds of -145 about Lincoln with a +3.5 goal head start in their Asian Handicap market, and that strikes as an appealing wager.
The Imps could lose by three goals and the bet would still be a winner. Despite the torrid time Arsenal and Arsene Wenger are experiencing at the moment, it would be a brave soul who predicts anything other than an Arsenal win here, but nothing points to them thrashing the non-league side by four or more goals.
Lincoln are six points clear at the top of the National League (for reference, Sutton are 16th), and the Imps are preparing for life back in the football league. They’ve been beaten just three times in the last 34 matches – a run that stretches back to the 1st of October last year. Clearly they don’t come up against teams of Arsenal’s calibre very often, but they’ve shown a level of competitiveness in those aforementioned giant-killings. It’s also going to be the game of the Lincoln players’ lives, and we can expect them to leave everything on the pitch.
For Arsenal this is a quick turnaround after Tuesday night’s terribly disappointing loss to Bayern Munich. Once again the Gunners fell apart as the game drifted away from them, although some questionable refereeing decisions certainly affected the result. One the one hand this could be just the tonic – a game against an inferior side – but it will be hard for Arsenal players to raise the enthusiasm for the battle after such a draining week. They ought to have enough to get through to the last four, but Lincoln are capable of at least keeping the scoreline respectable.
Middlesbrough v Manchester City
Manchester City were frustrated by a disciplined Stoke side in a midweek Premier League fixture, and it could be a similar story against a defensively-minded Middlesbrough.
Pep Guardiola has publicly conceded defeat to Chelsea in the Premier League title race, and while the FA Cup offers a chance of silverware, there is no doubt his priorities lie with the Champions League. The incredible 5-3 win over Monaco puts City in with a strong chance of making the quarter finals in that competition, but the game is finely poised. A Premier League match with Liverpool follows next weekend, and it’s a busy period which will probably lead to squad rotation. The 0-0 draw at Huddersfield (three days prior to the first leg against Monaco) in the fifth round saw the likes of Delph, Fernando, Nolito and Navas given run outs, and it would be no surprise if City’s big hitters are left out for the trip to the French Riviera.
BetVictor again stand out with odds of -143 about Middlesbrough with a +1.5 goal head start on the Asian Handicap, meaning even a one-goal defeat would land the bet.
The Smoggies have been competitive in the Premier League all season, and last weekend was the first time they’ve dropped into the bottom three since October. A lack of goals has been their undoing, and with just 19 in the ‘goals for’ column they are the top flight’s lowest-scoring team. However, their defensive stats are much more impressive. Just 30 goals have been conceded in this season’s Premier League – a record which is the best outside the top seven.
Man City do have the ability to beat any team by a big margin, but a determined Middlesbrough side can make this tough for the Citizens ahead of that all-important Champions League tie.
Lincoln +3.5 to beat Arsenal (Asian Handicap)
Saturday 11th March, 17:30 GMT
Middlesbrough +1.5 to beat Manchester City (Asian Handicap)
Saturday 11th March, 12:15 GMT