Depending on your perspective, the fourth round is either where the FA Cup begins to get interesting or where it begins to become a significantly less compelling contest. The majority of the true minnows have already been eliminated, and with the Premier League sides joining up in the previous round the potential for shocking upsets has taken quite a hit; though opportunities for lower-league sides to functionally change the nature of their existence still exist, but they're much fewer in number.
Still, for the "casual" football fan (with pains being taken to point out that "casual" is a relative term) there's a great deal of intrigue here. For the biggest clubs it's a rare opportunity to throw the kids out into the fray without much concern for the consequences, while there are still plenty of smaller clubs in the mix to keep things fresh.
The only matchup between Premier League sides closes out the weekend when Chelsea hosts Stoke City on Sunday afternoon, while the remaining top flight sides have a comparatively easier go of things. Arsenal kicks off the festivities by hosting Coventry on Friday afternoon, in a match that will only be interesting if it involves embarrassment on the part of the Gunners. Liverpool have the early billing to themselves on Saturday with a trip to Bournemouth, and if we're lucky a massive anarchic mess will follow in short order.
The mid-afternoon Saturday spot is by far the most compelling, with eight Premier League sides involved; Swansea, Cardiff, Hull City, Crystal Palace, and Everton travel to face Birmingham City, Bolton, Southend United, Wigan Athletic, and Stevenage (respectively) while Manchester City and Southampton will host Watford and Yeovil Town. Sunderland have the underdog trap of the weekend in hosting Conference Premier side Kidderminster Harriers, and though it's got nothing to do with actual analysis the narrative all but demands that Kiddy knock the League Cup finalist out of the running in a stunning upset. (This likely won't happen, so please do not blame us for the thousands of pounds that you stupidly wagered on this game.)
The aforementioned Premier League clash between Chelsea and Stoke will close out the weekend, with Fulham looking to turn their fortunes around away from home against Sheffield United the early game, and one to keep an eye on. In all likelihood, this will be a typical FA Cup 4th Round; more close calls than you can count, a few "breakout" performances by elite prospects, and a large majority of predictable winners. But even though the majority of this week's games are likely to break the way of the favored, those few upsets will make the whole thing worth it; the FA Cup is all about dreaming big.
A full list of this weekend's fixtures is below.
Friday, January 24th:
Arsenal vs. Coventry City, 19:45 GMT/2:45 PM ET
Nottingham Forest vs. Preston North End. 20:00 GMT/3:00 PM ET
Saturday, January 25th:
Bournemouth vs. Liverpool, 12:45 GMT/7:45 AM ET
Birmingham City vs. Swansea City, 15:00/10:00 AM ET
Bolton vs. Cardiff City, 15:00/10:00 AM ET
Huddersfield Town vs. Charlton, 15:00/10:00 AM ET
Manchester City vs. Watford, 15:00/10:00 AM ET
Port Vale vs. Brighton, 15:00/10:00 AM ET
Rochdale vs. Sheffield Wednesday, 15:00/10:00 AM ET
Southampton vs. Yeovil Town, 15:00/10:00 AM ET
Southend United vs. Hull City, 15:00/10:00 AM ET
Sunderland vs. Kidderminster Harriers, 15:00/10:00 AM ET
Wigan Athletic vs. Crystal Palace, 15:00/10:00 AM ET
Stevenage vs. Everton, 17:30/12:30 PM ET
Sunday, January 26th:
Sheffield United vs. Fulham, 13:00 GMT/8:00 AM ET
Chelsea vs. Stoke City, 15:30 GMT/10:30 AM ET