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Merseysiders aim to avoid FA Cup giant-killings

ESPN staff
January 4, 2013 « Dodson chasing pigs & squirrels to prepare for Johnson | Chartbeat test »
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The FA Cup ties of Swansea v Arsenal, Mansfield v Liverpool and Cheltenham v Everton are all exclusively live on ESPN. Click here for details on how to subscribe

Ronnie Radford, Mickey Thomas, Jermaine Beckford, Nigel Jemson... all unlikely heroes who have carved out their places in FA Cup folklore. The third round is famous for embarrassing the nation's big guns, and there is plenty of potential for another memorable scalp this weekend.

Three of the biggest ties of the round in 2013 will be shown live on ESPN, with Arsenal, Liverpool and Everton all falling under the glare of the ESPN cameras. Daniel Sturridge could make his debut for Liverpool, while elsewhere Joe Cole's homecoming sees West Ham host Premier League leaders Manchester United.

Swansea v Arsenal - Live on ESPN

Form: Other than the recent draw at Southampton, Arsenal's form has actually been pretty healthy. Three straight victories preceded that trip to St Mary's, although they were far from convincing in the 7-3 goal fest at home to Newcastle. Swansea have been a mixed bag, drawing three, losing one and winning one of their last five, but every match is tight with the Swans. Their last seven games have either ended in a draw or been settled by the odd goal, and fresh in the memory is their comfortable 2-0 win at the Emirates.
Key battle: Arsene Wenger might choose to rotate certain players but, given Arsenal's trophy drought, he would be well advised to play his best XI on Sunday. The Gunners were torn wide open by Swansea on home soil, with both goals coming from the classy feet of Michu. Centre-back Laurent Koscielny, who did not play that day, will want to show Gunners fans what they were missing.
Player to watch: Theo Walcott. Arsene Wenger insists Walcott is not stalling over money nor his desire for a guarantee that he will be played as a centre-forward. Which begs the question: Why is he stalling then? Either way, while the England man's contract saga continues every goal that Walcott scores earns him more power, and probably more admirers too.
Talking point: If Walcott was to leave Arsenal, who might he join? Would he get in the starting XIs of Manchester United, Chelsea or Manchester City? Would a Liverpool strikeforce of Suarez, Sturridge and Walcott appeal? Or would he have to go abroad?
Bet of the day: Swansea were so comfortable on away soil against Arsenal that it is difficult to imagine the Gunners being able to turn it around at the Liberty Stadium. Take the Swans at a tempting 9/4 with bet 365
Prediction: 2-1

Mansfield v Liverpool - Live on ESPN

Form: The mood around Liverpool is about as buoyant as it has been all season. Rare back-to-back victories in the Premier League sees them within seven points of the top four, and the arrival of Daniel Sturridge is expected to bolster a forward line that has been heavily reliant upon Luis Suarez. Mansfield will feel comfortable at the One Call Stadium, where they have the third best home defensive record in the Conference, conceding 11 goals in 12 outings. The Stags currently sit ninth in the Conference, and have been beaten once in their last seven matches in all competitions.
Key battle: Matthew Green is the man to watch for Mansfield, having top-scored with seven league goals this season. He averages nearly two shots per game and will likely come up against the ageing legs of Jamie Carragher.
Player to watch: Sturridge is free to make his Liverpool debut, and Brendan Rodgers might want to get an early look at his new £12 million man ahead of the Reds' trip to Manchester United next week. A goalscoring start would do wonders for confidence.
Talking point: Will Sturridge prove a good signing for the Reds? He's young, English, talented and has a point to prove. On the flip side, there are arguably better players abroad for £12 million, and question marks remain over the England man's attitude.
Bet of the day: These games always start with the underdogs setting a fast pace, so back Liverpool to come from behind to win at 6/1 with bet 365
Prediction: 1-3

Cheltenham v Everton - Live on ESPN

Daniel Sturridge could make his Liverpool debut on ESPN © Getty Images
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Form: Gone are the days when Everton were a soft touch, the Toffees have lost one of their last nine in all competitions, and even that defeat was a highly unfortunate 2-1 loss to Chelsea. They are potentially facing Cheltenham at a good time too. Currently fourth in League Two, the Robins have only won one of their last four in the league as they experience their worst slump since the opening games of the campaign.
Key battle: Cheltenham have shared the goals around this season, but they were poor in their last outing at Oxford and only the arrival of Shaun Harrad from the bench injected more urgency, so he can be expected to start against the formidable figure of Phil Jagielka, who signed a new contract with Everton this week.
Player to watch: Victor Anichebe has earned himself a big reputation as a super sub, scoring another winner at Newcastle on Wednesday, and David Moyes might choose to give the powerful forward a chance to prove he can do it for 90 minutes at Whaddon Road.
Talking point: Would Everton fans rather win the FA Cup or qualify for the Champions League this season?
Bet of the day: Cheltenham's form has not been the same since the draw was made for the FA Cup third round, which suggests they have been waiting for this fixture. Back them for a draw at 17/4 with bet 365
Prediction: 1-1

West Ham United v Manchester United

Form: West Ham will hope for an upturn in form after ending a four-game winless streak with victory over Norwich. The crowd will also be amped by the return of Joe Cole to Upton Park. Manchester United haven't lost in their last six in all competitions but they are prone to the odd slip-up in FA Cup third round ties.
Key battle: Mark Noble is a man in form for the Hammers, deadly from the penalty spot and pulling the strings in the West Ham midfield. He will likely have the legs on veteran Ryan Giggs, but will he have the class?
Player to watch: After rising to prominence and playing a key role for England at Euro 2012, Danny Welbeck has dropped down the pecking order at United this season. He could get a start at Upton Park, but needs to improve on his solitary strike for the Red Devils this term.
Talking point: Are West Ham merely acting as debt advisors to Liverpool? They took Andy Carroll - to relatively little success - in the summer, and now they have lifted Joe Cole's hefty wages from the Anfield books.
Bet of the day: FA Cup ties tend to be more free-scoring than league encounters, so back the game to have at least three goals by half-time at 5/1 with bet 365
Prediction: 1-2
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