Belfast Telegraph

Sam Allardyce's Premier League return is no surprise to Arsene Wenger

Arsene Wenger is not surprised by Sam Allardyce's swift return to club management as he believes the new Crystal Palace boss has the experience desired by Premier League sides fighting the drop.

Allardyce, 62, was appointed as Alan Pardew's successor at Selhurst Park last week with the Eagles languishing in 17th place, just two points clear of the relegation zone.

It is Allardyce's first job since his ill-fated 67-day reign as England manager, a job he left by mutual consent after just one game in charge following a newspaper sting in which he talked about how to get around the Football Association's rules on third-party ownership.

However, the former Bolton, West Ham and Sunderland boss had previously carved out a name for himself for keeping teams afloat in the top flight, most recently maintaining the Black Cats' Premier League status last term.

Palace are his latest survival project, a team who have endured a poor 2016 in the league despite heavy investment in the squad. Wenger, whose Arsenal side host Palace on New Year's Day, believes his previous experience meant Allardyce would always find a way back into football despite the manner of his England exit.

Asked if he was surprised by Allardyce's swift return, Wenger replied: "No, not really. Because today, the clubs who are in trouble look for experienced managers.

"The position in the Premier League has become vital for everybody to stay in the league. It has become an extremely big problem for everybody and when teams look for managers he was one out there who had the experience and the quality.

"After that, all the rest is moral judgement. I don't know how guilty he was of having done something or not, I don't know. But he was in a strong position as a national team manager, that means that people acknowledged that he had the quality to be there."

Allardyce started life at Palace with a 1-1 draw at Watford on Boxing Day and Wenger expects the reaction to the appointment to still be resonating with the players, who he believes can threaten anyone on their day.

"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," he 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.

"They can be good in the air with (striker Christian) Benteke, who is also good technically, and they can be quick in transition with Andros Townsend and Wilfried Zaha. In the last game, they played with Mathieu Flamini, Jason Puncheon and Yohan Cabaye in midfield.

"They have experience, they have technical quality. It's a team that can be dangerous for everybody."

Palace visit the Emirates Stadium with Arsenal looking to keep on the coat-tails of league leaders Chelsea, having laboured to victory in their Boxing Day outing against West Brom.

Shkodran Mustafi is fit again following a hamstring problem but Theo Walcott, who missed the 1-0 win with a groin injury, is likely to remain out. Reported Palace target Kieran Gibbs is a definite absentee with a knee injury suffered against the Baggies.

Wenger also conceded he 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.

"He's fit, he's sharp," Wenger added.

"Will I involve him in the short term or not or will I play him first in a game with the under-23s? I have not decided yet, but in training he looks quite good."

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