Wenger wary of palace

Arsenal manager aware of threat posed by relegation-threatened team led by Allardyce

LONDON • Arsene Wenger admits a reunion with old rival Sam Allardyce could pose serious dangers to Arsenal's hopes of rekindling their Premier League title challenge when Crystal Palace visit the Emirates Stadium today.

Wenger has traded barbs with Allardyce numerous times in the past and the sight of the Palace boss glowering down the other end of the touchline might trouble the Arsenal manager this week.

With fourth-placed Arsenal fighting to avoid being cast adrift in the title race, the last thing Wenger needs is to see his side roughed up by the latest team to turn to the former Bolton boss in a bid to stave off relegation.

Allardyce will be leading Palace for just the second time since replacing the sacked Alan Pardew.

But his first match - a gritty 1-1 draw at Watford on Boxing Day - suggests the Eagles, languishing in 17th place before yesterday's matches, are already adapting to their new manager's desire for a direct style and physical approach.

Having narrowly beaten West Bromwich Albion with a late goal on Monday after losing to Everton and Manchester City, Arsenal could do with an uplifting performance to offer hope of better things to come this year.

But Wenger knows Allardyce, aiming to restore his reputation after the embarrassing end to his 67-day reign as England manager, will send out a motivated group determined to record the club's first victory at Arsenal since 1994.

"The level of confidence or the level of urgency always goes a bit up when a new manager comes in, of course. That makes the game more difficult," the Frenchman said. "When you look at their squad, it's a talented squad, because they have potential going forward, they are quick on the break and they are very versatile.

"It's a team that can be dangerous for everybody."

Arsenal are likely to be without Theo Walcott with the England winger still working his way back from a calf problem. Kieran Gibbs is out with a knee injury, while Shkodran Mustafi is available following a hamstring problem.

Wenger also has a decision to make on when to reintroduce Danny Welbeck after the England forward returned to training following a second serious knee injury in the last two years.

Palace defender Damien Delaney is suspended and could be replaced by James Tomkins, returning from a thigh injury. Eagles midfielders James McArthur and Joe Ledley are also available.

Team selection aside, Allardyce will need to decide if Christian Benteke will still be the club's penalty taker. The striker missed a spot-kick at Watford on Boxing Day - his second penalty miss this season, a moment Allardyce described as "the massive turning point".

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 01, 2017, with the headline 'Wenger wary of palace'. Print Edition | Subscribe