WILLIE Duncan (@Willie_Duncan) takes charge of Arsenal's meeting with Palace on the opening day of the New Year.
Arsenal v Crystal Palace | New Year's Day 16:00 | Sky Sports 1
2016 is a year that Sam Allardyce is unlikely to forget about in a hurry.
Big Sam started the year doing what he does best – he pulled Sunderland out of an almighty mess, securing Premier League status for the Black Cats and, when England endured a humiliating summer at the European Championships in France, the FA turned to the 62-year-old boss.
Despite a 1-0 win away from home against Slovakia in what proved to be Allardyce’s only game in charge of the Three Lions, his tenure in charge of the national team lasted just 67 days – and what went wrong for Big Sam with England has been covered in considerable depth by media outlets with far better legal representatives than we can afford at WLB Towers, so I’ll leave that one there…
Fast forward a few months and Allardyce is back in the Premier League – at Crystal Palace, to be precise – and, with the Eagles’ Premier League status far from assured, Big Sam is back doing what he does best.
His tenure started solidly enough, for Palace picked up a precious point from a testing trip to Vicarage Road on Boxing Day and, up next for Allardyce and the south London side is a very tough task indeed; an away day against Arsenal.
The Gunners suffered back-to-back Premier League defeats against Everton and Manchester City respectively and, just when it looked as if another two points were going to be dropped on Boxing Day, Olivier Giroud popped up with what proved to be the only goal of the game with just four minutes left against West Bromwich Albion.
The relief amongst the Arsenal players, fans was palpable, but the Gunners must brace themselves for more stoic resistance when they begin life in 2017 against the Eagles.
Since being appointed as Palace manager, Big Sam has suggested that his new charges, who have managed just a single clean sheet in 17 games, will need to tighten up at the back if they are to preserve their manager’s proud record of never having been relegated from the top-flight of English football, while Palace chairman Steve Parish turned to Allardyce because he feels that the open, expansive style that the Eagles had adopted under Alan Pardew’s watch was not working and that it was time to “wind the dial back”.
It seems likely, therefore, that the south Londoners might be stuffy and spoiling rather than swashbuckling against Wenger’s men on Sunday and Arsenal rarely enjoy playing against teams who have a tendency to defend in depth.
West Brom’s resistance, rather like Burnley’s at Turf Moor earlier in the campaign, was eventually broken by the Gunners, but Middlesbrough’s was not – and the north Londoners were forced to settle for a solitary point from their home meeting with Aitor Karanka’s charges.
Palace will certainly make things tough, though, and those hoping for a glut of goals to help ease their hangover may be left sorely disappointed.
Unibet’s juicy 8/5 for Sunday’s showdown to produce fewer than three goals, therefore, is the recommended play when Wenger’s men welcome Allardyce’s Eagles to north London on New Year’s Day.
Arsenal v Crystal Palace – Under 2.5 Goals (8/5 Unibet)