After a frantic festive schedule in England, 64 teams across five divisions will sample the unique allure of the FA Cup when the third round commences this weekend.
North London rivals Arsenal FC and Tottenham Hotspur FC, who boast an impressive 18 titles between them, lock horns in Saturday's headline fixture. Both sides enter the game in fine fettle, with the Gunners a point clear at the Premier League summit and Spurs, under the guidance of Tim Sherwood, having won three of their four top-flight games since relieving André Villas-Boas of his duties.
The last was a 2-1 defeat of Manchester United FC, who have the chance to appease the Old Trafford faithful when they tackle Swansea City AFC on Sunday. In the remaining all-Premier League ties, Ole Gunnar Solskjær takes his place in the Cardiff City FC dugout for the first time at Newcastle United FC, while West Bromwich Albion FC and Norwich City FC host Crystal Palace FC and Fulham FC respectively.
Anyone who had doubted the role of the underdog in this famous competition was hastily backpedalling last year when Roberto Martínez's Wigan Athletic FC edged Manchester City FC 1-0 in the Wembley showpiece to land their first major trophy. The Latics, who subsequently failed to retain their top-flight status, begin the defence of their crown at home to third division outfit Milton Keynes Dons FC after City have travelled to six-time winners Blackburn Rovers FC.
Martínez's winning mentality and penchant for eye-catching football has since rubbed off on Everton FC, who the Spaniard has guided to fifth in the Premier League after filling the void left vacant by David Moyes. The Toffees – aiming for their sixth FA Cup success – take on Queens Park Rangers FC on Saturday before Merseyside neighbours Liverpool FC encounter Oldham Athletic FC for the third season running. Chelsea FC meet Derby County FC, meanwhile, as they bid to lift the trophy for the fifth time in eight years.
One tie sure to stir the emotions pits Blackpool FC against Bolton Wanderers FC in a repeat of the 1953 final. Although 60 years have passed, the image of Sir Stanley Matthews tormenting defenders at the tender age of 38 is enduring. Few will also forget the name of Stan Mortensen, the first, and to date only player, to hit an FA Cup final treble as Blackpool posted a remarkable 4-3 comeback victory having trailed 3-1 with 22 minutes remaining.
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