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Last Updated: Monday, 28 January 2008, 18:01 GMT
Alan Hansen's view
Alan Hansen
By Alan Hansen
BBC Sport football expert

My first thought when I saw the FA Cup fifth round draw? It's an absolute belter.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Alex Hleb
United and Arsenal have met three times in the FA Cup in five years
Obviously the Manchester United v Arsenal tie jumps out at you - more of which in a moment - but the beauty of this draw is the opportunity it opens up for the non-Premier League clubs.

It's still almost certain that three of the Big Four will be in the quarter-finals, and my money would still be on one of them winning the whole thing.

But with Coventry playing West Brom, Bristol Rovers at home to Southampton and Cardiff playing Wolves, we'll have at least three teams from outside the top flight in the last eight.

The competition needs that. It needs the interest that generates, the stories it throws up and the experiences it produces.

Reaching the semi-finals of the FA Cup is a wonderful feeling for any player. You can almost smell Wembley at that point.

If you get on a decent run, it can bring life to every aspect of your club - to the players, the supporters and even the groundstaff.

This season's stories have breathed further life into an already-revitalised competition

Alan Hansen

Just ask Bryan Robson at Sheffield United. Two wins over Premier League opposition and suddenly some of the weight is off his shoulders.

The same fans who were booing him after the derby defeat by Sheffield Wednesday are now eyeing another top-flight team coming to Bramall Lane.

The FA Cup finals I played in were bigger for me than any of my four European Cup final appearances.

The European finals might have been more important historically, but to us players at the centre of it all - running out at Wembley, knowing the entire country was watching you - the FA Cup could not be topped.

This season's competition has had its ups and downs. It's bad for the competition that some teams in the Premier League keep playing below-strength teams, and it's not good that some matches have been played in half-empty stadiums.

But think of what else we've had - Havant & Waterlooville taking the lead twice at Anfield, Chasetown playing live on national TV and Premier League teams getting knocked out by smaller clubs left, right and centre.

As for the tie at Old Trafford - well, you'd have to favour home advantage as your first shout.

606: DEBATE
BBC Sport's Sarah Holt

Beyond that, it might come down to which manager wants it most. Both teams have big Champions League matches a few days later - so which game do they prioritize?

Matches between these two sides in the league tend to be tight, tense affairs. There's a tendency to think the same might be true in the Cup.

At the same time, both sides have so many great players and can play at such pace and intensity. We'll see.

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez and Chelsea manager Avram Grant will both be happy, that's for sure. And Portsmouth fans will start feeling a touch greedy too.

They've had a great season already - all those away wins for starters - but once you start doing well, your expectations tend to shift.

I don't think the FA Cup will ever quite get back to the status it had during the 1970s and 1980s, because the rise of the Champions League has altered the football landscape for good.

But this season's stories have breathed further life into an already-revitalised competition - and it looks like there's a lot more yet to come.

Alan Hansen was talking to Tom Fordyce



SEE ALSO
Arsenal 0-0 Man Utd (aet)
21 May 05 |  FA Cup
Arsenal cruise past Man Utd
16 Feb 03 |  FA Cup


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