I have long said that I love the FA Cup more than any other competition. More than the league, more than the Champions League, more than...you get the idea. Why do I love the FA Cup so much? I love it because, in this day and age of competitions that are built or optimized for TV and designed to give the massive teams every single competitive advantage possible, the FA Cup is a wonderful throwback - an unseeded, single-pot random draw before each round determines the opponent. No separate pots, no artificial separation of teams, just...your number comes up and you play the next number that comes up.
What this means is that, particularly in the third round when the Premier League joins the fun, you get all sorts of weird random fixtures where teams that are used to playing on immaculate, manicured grounds in front of fans who have paid out close to or more than £100 for a ticket may have to travel to grounds that are little more than municipal parks, where there may or may not be seats, there may or may not be adequate changing facilities, and there may or may not be any hope of the minnow making it out alive. Which, sometimes, they do!
The marketers, narrative spinners, and cliche-slingers have come to call this "The Magic Of The Cup", as if something so elusive and mercurial and powerful could be contained by a stupid slogan, but there's a lot of truth to this particular hoary old cliche. For the big teams, the Cup has an air of danger to it that most competitions don't - I mean, if Arsenal lose to Southampton one day in the league, they can go to Bournemouth a few days later and make it right, and if they lose to Olympiakos at home in the Champions League, they have another chance to set it right and move ahead in the competition in a few weeks' time.
The FA Cup offers no such safety net; if you lose, you go home. The way I always explain the FA Cup to American fans unfamiliar with soccer, and its frankly bewildering-to-new-fans competition structure, is that the FA Cup is basically a season-long NCAA Tournament that runs alongside the regular season - there are no second chances, there's no consolation bracket, there's not anything to be gained by playing for a draw if things aren't going your way. It's a merciless competition, and that's one of the many reasons it's my favorite, even though it's also provided me with several of the least favorite moments of my Arsenal fandom (about which, more later).
I am always going to bemoan fixture congestion, and I firmly believe that there are too many competitions in the game, particularly the English game (looking at you, MilkRumbelowsCarlingCocaColaLeague Cup), but I dearly hope that the FA Cup never changes itself significantly and never stops being something clubs take seriously and try hard to win. It's an amazing competition and because it's about the last of a dying breed in soccer, a tournament where you must win every single game you play, if you want to progress.
Don't get me wrong - I love it when Arsenal win the league, and I would love to see Arsenal win the Champions League. But the league's balanced schedule, with its only quirks being when on the calendar you play the same teams every year, and the Champions League's annual Arsenal-Bayern group and Arsenal-Barcelona round of 16 aren't exactly things that put that little shiver in your spine when they're announced, the way that you wait anxiously to see who comes out of the pot once Arsenal's number is called. At least not for me. It's FA Cup time, it's time for Arsenal to go for that third straight trophy, and I can't wait.