By weakened sides, of course, we actually mean stronger sides, both physically and mentally, just slightly less talented in terms of technical ability and reliability. Nowadays, matches where underdogs field fewer known quantities tend to be more unpredictable, partly perhaps because Premier League video analysis departments have less relevant footage at their disposal.
Indeed, League Two sides Portsmouth and Luton have demonstrated to fine effect in front of the cameras already this term that squad rotation is no longer a luxury just open to the elite. Pompey made seven changes and emerged victorious in their first round match against Derby, while the Hatters made six changes and took the Potters all the way to penalties.
Wednesday, meanwhile, put everyone to shame - not least Steve McClaren - by making ten changes for their third round victory at Newcastle and it could pay to take our cues from that game with regards the Owls’ modus operandi. They played a similar team with seven changes at QPR last week and battled out a goalless draw. Carlos Carvalhal might not be quite so wholesale this time around but his team will need to retain the same level of defensive discipline if they wish to progress.
With that in mind, it might be worth taking huge prices about the Draw/Sheffield Wednesday HT/FT option and Sheffield Wednesday to win to nil, both of which are 16/1. Surely the plan for Carvalhal will be to contain the visitors in the opening 45 minutes and condense most of the goalmouth action into the second 45. It’s arguably the most logical plan considering Arsenal’s recent schedule.
Over the past seven days, the Gunners have beaten Bayern Munich then further underlined their title credentials with victory against Everton when some wondered if they might be vulnerable to fatigue. It was a sensible theory but sensible theories don’t always produce linear results and this might be where the various knock-on effects take hold. Arsene Wenger has hardly enjoyed resounding success when rotating this season.
Meanwhile, there’s an intriguing masculinity-femininity battle in store at Goodison and, in theory at least, a 4/1 quote about a results-driven team like Norwich winning a knockout match against process-orientated opposition like Everton is well worth snapping up. Roberto Martinez might have an FA Cup on his CV but his teams are best swerved at odds-on in these scenarios.
The fact that Norwich come into this game on the back of three straight defeats, including that 6-2 hiding at Newcastle, should only be a source of encouragement. Knowing Alex Neil, the determination to put that record straight could be disproportionate to the actual relevance of this game and the status of the competition.
For more information about Mike Holden’s shot-based ratings system, follow this link.