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FA Cup Preview: Wigan looks for Arsenal upset, Hull and Sheffield look for Wembley dream

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With the FA Cup into the semifinals, at least one team will have the unexpected opportunity to play in a Wembley final, while the Gunners are hoping to not just buck bad form but also a dubious trophy drought.

Saturday features favorites Arsenal against Wigan, while a pair of surprises square off on Sunday in Hull City and Sheffield United.

This year’s road to Wembley has been a strange one fraught with strange results and major upsets, as just two of the four teams remaining reside in England’s top flight.

Wembley Stadium is ready, are you? Get prepared with ProSoccerTalk’s preview of this weekend’s FA Cup action.

Arsenal vs Wigan Athletic (Saturday, 12:07pm ET)

As the Gunners look to break their 8-year trophy void, they have just a Championship team in their way.

However, Wigan Athletic have already taken down three Premier League teams in Manchester City, Cardiff City, and Crystal Palace en route to the semis, and Arsenal appears to be just another giant in the way.

The Gunners could desperately use a positive result no matter who it is against, especially one that would send them one game away from a trophy. It’s been five matches since Arsenal has picked up a win, conceding 12 goals in the four since then.

In a battle to retain their Champions League status, any positive momentum thrown Arsenal’s way would be greatly appreciated, and could boost their morale with just one top-10 side (Newcastle) remaining on their end-of-season Premier League schedule.

Wigan, sitting in fifth position in the Championship, are on a bit of a form dip in the league. They ripped off eight straight wins across all competitions in February and March, but since then have just two wins in their last seven.

With just six league matches remaining and six points ahead of the cut line for the promotion playoff, the Latics don’t have too much to worry about in their league status, so all their focus will be on Arsenal.

source: Getty Images
Hull City’s Matthew Fryatt scored a goal in their last FA Cup match and could feature up front with their 2 main strikers cup-tied.

Hull City vs Sheffield United (Sunday, 11:07am ET)

The first third-tier team to reach the semifinals since 2001, League One’s Sheffield United have the chance to become the first ever third-tear club in the finals of the FA Cup.

Having already toppled Premier League foes in Fulham and Aston Villa as well as Championship foes Nottingham Fores, they have a tough test in the defensively solid Hull City.

Hull manager Steve Bruce refused to look at the FA Cup sitting in the media room during his prematch press conference, and with the Tigers fully secure in their Premier League future, their full focus will be on Sunday’s semifinal.

Both teams are sure to have fantastic support, with Sheffield United having sold out their allotment within 24 hours of making them available.  Hull City supporters are hoping to see their team reach the finals of this competition for the first time ever.

Hull City do have some problems up front, with strikers Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic up tied having both appeared for their previous clubs in the competition.  That leaves Steve Bruce with just Sone Aluko, Matty Fryatt and Yannick Sagbo to choose from.

Premier League Preview: Stoke City vs. Manchester United

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02:  Paul Pogba of Manchester United (L) shoots while Erik Pieters of Stoke City (R) attempts to block the shot during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Stoke City at Old Trafford on October 2, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
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  • Man Utd leads all-time 43W-34D-28L
  • Clubs even in last six (2-2-2)
  • Red Devils unbeaten in 16
  • Stoke winners of two-straight

After wins over Sunderland and Watford, Stoke City gets a higher class of opponent on Saturday at the Britannia Stadium (Watch live at 10 a.m. EDT on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Fortunately for Stoke, it’s had some success against Manchester United in recent years.

Stoke and United drew 1-1 at Old Trafford on Oct. 2, though Jose Mourinho’s Red Devils are flying now. United is hard to break down, and arguably deserved better than the 1-1 draw it earned versus Liverpool last weekend.

Stoke is now 11 points clear of the drop zone, and a win could raise its status to closer to the Top Five than Bottom Three. United, meanwhile, wants three points that would move it to precipice of the Top Four.

 

What they’re saying

Stoke City’s Glenn Whelan on facing United“There has been a wind of change there and the supporters seem a lot happier now and you get the sense that they are together as a group now. You only have to look at the players within the squad, and even the ones who are leaving, to see how much strength in depth they have there.”

Jose Mourinho praises newly-extended Antonio Valencia“I don’t think it is a reward, I don’t see it in this perspective. I just think he is the best right-back you can have. There is no better right-back in football. It is just for us to keep the best. I don’t think it is a reward. It is a privilege for us to have such a good player and such a good man.”

Prediction

United gets it done, only barely. Stoke will put up a brave battle for boss Mark Hughes, but there are too many weapons to suppress. United, 1-0.

AFCON wrap: Results keep Group C undecided

Ivory Coast's Wilfried Bony controls the ball on his head during their training session at the Stade Akoakam, Oyem, Gabon, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, ahead of their African Cup of Nations Group C soccer match against Congo. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
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Like Group A, Group C in the Africa Cup of Nations has very little decided ahead of the final group stage match.

[ MORE: Guardiola “said goodbye to title” ]

Ivory Coast 2-2 DR Congo

A thrilling first half had DR Congo leading 1-0 and 2-1, with only Wilfried Bony netting for the Ivory Coast. Les Elephants grabbed a draw through Serey Die’s 67th minute goal.

DR Congo now leads the group and is primed to advance with a result against Togo or a Morocco loss or draw against Ivory Coast.

Morocco 3-1 Togo

Mathieu Dossevi gave Togo a surprise fifth minute lead lead, but Aziz Bouhaddouz kickstarted the Moroccan attack to plug the victors into Group C’s second spot ahead of a Jan. 24 showdown with Ivory Coast.

Saturday’s matches

Ghana vs. Mali — 11 a.m. ET
Egypt vs. Uganda — 2 p.m. ET

Premier League Preview: Liverpool vs. Swansea City

SWANSEA, WALES - MAY 01:  Jefferson Montero of Swansea City is challenged by Nathaniel Clyne of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Liverpool at The Liberty Stadium on May 1, 2016 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)
Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images
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  • Liverpool leads all-time 22W-8D-10L
  • Swans lost five-straight at Anfield
  • Reds unbeaten in 7 PL matches

One of the Premier League’s top attacks hosts the division’s leakiest defense, as Liverpool may be licking its chops ahead of a visit from struggling Swansea City on Saturday (Watch live at 7:30 a.m. EDT on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Liverpool has drawn at Sunderland and Manchester United in its last two Premier League outings, and sits seven points back of leaders Chelsea.

Swansea City has allowed multiple goals in five of six PL matches since beating Sunderland 3-0 on Dec. 10. It’s no surprise that they’ve lost those five (the sixth being a 2-1 win at struggling Crystal Palace).

What they’re saying

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp on the match“We’re really looking forward to this game. I don’t know when it happened but in England every game now is like a final. Swansea are trying to survive. I don’t know when the title run-in will start, maybe now and we’re in the race. I hope for a special atmosphere tomorrow.”

Swansea City back Federico Fernandez on Liverpool“They are a team that is very strong going forward and that is shown by the number of goals they have scored. If you lose a little bit of focus against these teams then they have the players that will punish you every time. But it’s not only defending strongly when they are attacking, it is also how we keep hold of the ball and how we use it when in possession.”

Prediction

Swansea boss Paul Clement has his hands full, and is grabbing reinforcements in the transfer window (Luciano Narsingh, Martin Olsson, Tom Carroll). That won’t be enough to handle what Liverpool will dish out Saturday, as the Reds break free with a 3-0 win.

Saints’ Fonte moves to West Ham for $10 million

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West Ham has been linked with big name strikers since the summer, but the Irons’ big January transfer to date is a center back.

EURO champion and Southampton mainstay Jose Fonte is moving to London.

[ MORE: West Brom finally sells Berahino ]

Fonte, 33, makes an approximately $10 million move from the South Coast, where the Portuguese back will better Slaven Bilic‘s back line while forcing Southampton to find an answer alongside Virgil Van Dijk.

It’s been a strange trip to London for Fonte and Southampton, detailed by our own Joe Prince-Wright here. Fonte joined Saints during the 2009-10 season, and became a cult hero at St. Mary’s in helping the club move from League One to the Europa League in just over a half-decade.

Something won’t feel right about seeing Fonte in claret and blue, and Saints host West Ham on Feb. 4. Should be quite interesting.