Sam Allardyce is already planning to shuffle his pack for the FA Cup, with Sunderland facing a crunch relegation clash at Swansea just four days later, writes Chris Young.
Sunderland face the first of six games inside three weeks today, as the Black Cats begin their packed festive schedule with a trip to title contenders Manchester City.
But that’s not the case now so there’ll be a bigger rotation at Arsenal in the cup than there will be in any of the other games.
Allardyce’s squad is already stretched by injuries, with Younes Kaboul, Seb Larsson, Adam Matthews and Lee Cattermole on the treatment table, albeit the latter has a chance of being included in the squad to face City.
But Allardyce expects his players to be exhausted and susceptible to further injuries by the time Sunderland travel to Spurs in three weeks’ time.
In order to minimise the effects of the festive schedule on the squad, Allardyce has pencilled in the FA Cup third round clash at Arsenal as an opportunity to rest key figures.
Allardyce would have named a full-strength side in the cup, yet with Sunderland travelling to third bottom Swansea four days later, the Black Cats’ relegation battle inevitably has to take priority.
The Sunderland boss said: “The fact is that when you put a Premier League fixture straight after the FA Cup third round in the worst month of the year, you have to face the consequences.
“If we didn’t have a game in midweek in the league, then the strongest possible team could probably play in the cup because it’s had enough rest.
“But that’s not the case now so there’ll be a bigger rotation at Arsenal in the cup than there will be in any of the other games.
“We’ve got some injuries, so it may be forced upon us anyway.
“By the end of this period, we might have even more injuries because we’ve flogged the players to death.
“There’s no doubt that this fixture for every Premier League manager in the country, is the worst time for it.”
The trip to Swansea was pushed back 24 hours by the Premier League earlier this week - a decision which infuriated Allardyce.
The game was originally due to take place on Tuesday, January 12, but because of Swansea’s trip to Oxford being moved to Sunday, January 10, the Premier League agreed to delay Sunderland’s visit, despite protests from the Black Cats.
If the game had been on the Tuesday, there would have been 54 hours between the final whistle of Swansea’s game at Oxford and kick-off against Sunderland.
But now, there are 61 hours between the final-whistle at the Liberty Stadium and kick-off for Sunderland’s lunchtime game at Spurs on the following Saturday.
Sunderland will have to travel more than 1,000 miles in that week too, while Swansea face the short round-trip to Oxford.
Allardyce is keeping his powder dry in criticising the Premier League’s decision until the game is in sight, but he did say: “disappointment is an understatement, but we’ll leave that until nearer the fixture.”