After a nervy 1-0 win over West Brom last time out, Arsenal will be hoping for easier going when they entertain Crystal Palace on New Year’s Day.
Having already prevailed against Bob Bradley’s side on the American’s first Premier League outing, they’ll be eager for similar fortunes when they welcome Sam Allardyce back to the capital. The 62-year-old rescued Sunderland from relegation last season and will be targeting the same fate in south London having signed a two-and-a-half year contract to replace Alan Pardew, who was sacked just before Christmas.
Allardyce has managed over 450 Premier League games since the 2001/02 campaign and in 31 meetings with Arsène Wenger, he’s only won on five occasions.
Wenger was full of praise for his opposite number ahead of Sunday’s fixture, describing him as being “absolutely sensational” for the work he did to keep Sunderland in the top flight last season.
“The success in every club is at a different level and the job of a manager is to take the best out of the potential of a team and that’s different at every level. Sometimes, to take the best out of a team is to avoid relegation,” Wenger continued.
After an interview with Mathieu Debuchy was published this week suggesting the full-back and Wenger hardly speak, he was asked a number of questions on the Frenchman’s situation. He confirmed the fact that the club are listening to offers for him in the upcoming transfer window, but denied suggestions that he blocked transfer approaches from a few clubs.
“It’s a little bit a frustrated article from a player who is injured, you know when you are injured you cannot play… We never blocked him going to Fiorentina, nor Espanyol. They had no interest in him at all because we checked that, so you have to take this article with a little distance,” Wenger explained.
Manchester United were also linked with the right-back’s signature on a temporary basis, but Wenger said claims are “completely untrue” and they never made a formal offer to take him on a loan deal.
There are a few injury issues which means Wenger’s opportunities for possible rotation look limited. Danny Welbeck has been described as both “fit and sharp” by the boss, although he admitted he’s unsure whether he’ll involve him in the short-term or allow him to improve match sharpness with the u23s at some stage in January.
Kieran Gibbs (knee) is unavailable for selection having limped off during the second-half against West Brom after a collision. Described as inflammation, Wenger said the left-back should recover in a matter of days, although it’s unlikely he’ll play against Bournemouth on January 3.
Theo Walcott (calf) isn’t expected to be risked, having missed the Boxing Day fixture against Tony Pulis’ side with a minor injury of his own. Shkodran Mustafi is scheduled for a welcome return into the Gunners backline from a hamstring injury, which ruled him out of back-to-back defeats against Everton and Manchester City before Christmas.
Possible XI (4-2-3-1): Cech; Bellerín, Koscielny, Mustafi, Monreal; Coquelin, Xhaka; Iwobi, Alexis, Özil; Giroud.
As previously stated, Crystal Palace are under new management and it comes as no surprise given the level of criticism directed in Pardew’s way for their inability to remain consistent in 2016.
They sit two points above the relegation places in 17th, and following a 1-1 draw away against Watford last time out, they’ll be targeting their second league victory since September. They have a number of key players that will pose various threats when they travel to the Emirates, including Wilfried Zaha on his final outing before he links up with the Ivory Coast squad at next month’s African Cup of Nations.
The 24-year-old winger is enjoying his best season in terms of goal contribution, having netted three and created eight assists in just under 1,500 Premier League minutes this term. Tottenham have been linked with an approach for his signature once more, after failed attempts in the summer window – something that Allardyce has already ruled out in his pre-match press conference.
Christian Benteke is the club’s top goalscorer with eight in 18 matches this campaign and will be hoping to improve his record against Arsenal: three goals (all at Aston Villa) against the Gunners in eight previous meetings, the Belgian forward will be hungry for more as Palace aim to kickstart their 2017 in style.
First-choice goalkeeper Steve Mandanda (knee surgery) is still sidelined for a few weeks, Damien Delaney (suspension) is unavailable whilst midfield duo James McArthur and Joe Ledley are in contention to feature but remain doubtful.
James Tomkins (thigh) could return, whilst the fixture comes too soon for both Loic Remy (calf) and Bakary Sako (muscle), who aren’t expected to feature until the middle of January.
Possible XI (4-2-3-1): Hennessey; Ward, Dann, Tomkins, Kelly; McArthur, Cabaye; Townsend, Zaha, Puncheon; Benteke.