Sunderland's big-team plan and Spurs' surprise iron man

ZonalMarking.net's Michael Cox uses the StatsZone app – from FFT and Opta, available now – to preview the best of the weekend's FA Cup action...

The only all-Premier League tie in the FA Cup this weekend sees Arsenal travelling up to Sunderland for the second consecutive weekend, after Thierry Henry’s late winner snatched a 2-1 victory at the Stadium of Light last Saturday.

FIXTURES (click team name for web-wide club news feed): Sat 18 Feb 12.30pm Chelsea v Birmingham City (Live on ESPN) 3pm Everton v Blackpool; Norwich City v Leicester City; Millwall v Bolton Wanderers 5.15pm Sunderland v Arsenal (Live on ITV) Sun 19 Feb 12noon Crawley Town v Stoke City (Live on ESPN) 2pm Stevenage v Tottenham Hotspur (Live on ITV) 4.30pm Liverpool v Brighton & Hove Albion (Live on ESPN)

Arsenal would usually be expected to dominate possession in this meeting, but last weekend’s statistics were particularly surprising. Sunderland attempted only 149 passes in the opposition half, fewer than any other side that weekend, while Mikel Arteta became the first Arsenal player this season to attempt more than 100 passes in one game.

Martin O’Neill’s approach against big teams is to sit very deep – and though it didn’t completely work last weekend, the pattern of passes played in the final third by both teams shows that Arsenal struggled to play passes to a position on the edge of the ‘D’. Sunderland focused more on long balls.

Birmingham versus Chelsea isn’t an all-Premier League tie – but it was last season, and at St Andrews Birmingham recorded one of the most unlikely Premier League victories of 2011/12.

The home side recorded just three shots in that game; two were blocked, the other was a cool finish by Lee Bowyer past Petr Cech for the game’s only goal. Amazingly, Birmingham managed to keep a clean sheet despite 32 Chelsea shots.

The task this weekend will be much more difficult, not least because Birmingham are now a Championship club – but also because this game is at Stamford Bridge, where they lost last season. But with last year’s experience, plus Chelsea in a poor run of form and Birmingham unbeaten, could this fixture be a potential shock?

FEATURE, Fri 17 Feb: Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal set for FA Cup trouble – Jon Champion

We can also look to last season for a previous Everton versus Blackpool fixture – and a very fine one in which Everton ran out 5-3 winners. No Premier League match last season saw more than eight goals, and only two other games equalled it.

However, most of the goalscorers from that day have been transferred away – Louis Saha and Jermaine Beckford were the contributors to Everton’s five, while Liverpool’s Charlie Adam and Southampton’s Jason Puncheon were on target for Blackpool. Only Alex Baptiste remains, and is likely to start at the back for Blackpool.

Stevenage<’s game with Tottenham is likely to be billed as a potential giantkilling, but Spurs are in a good run of form and won 5-0 against Newcastle last weekend. While the attackers inevitably got most of the credit for that performance, Tottenham also competed well in midfield, where the duo of Scott Parker and Luka Modric won 10 of their 12 attempted tackles throughout the game.

Parker’s tenacity is an obvious part of his game, but Modric is a much better player defensively than often given credit for, and it’s unlikely that the two will be bullied by the physical power of a lower league midfield.

FEATURE, Fri 17 Feb: Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal set for FA Cup trouble – Jon Champion

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