Premier League survival to remain priority for Sam Allardyce
Sam Allardyce will embark upon a new FA Cup campaign insisting Barclays Premier League survival must be Sunderland's overwhelming priority.
The 61-year-old, a vocal advocate for the introduction of a winter break in English football, has made his feelings abundantly clear over a fixture list which sees the Black Cats face league leaders Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in the third round on Saturday before trips to Swansea and Tottenham, all inside eight days.
Allardyce is a traditionalist whose love for the FA Cup is unquestionable, but having been handed the task of preserving the club's top-flight status by owner Ellis Short in October, that remains his focus.
He said: "It's always the Premier League. We are in the bottom three and that makes our status in the Premier League the most important thing - and this is the club priority, this is the priority from Ellis Short downwards.
"The emphasis at this football club, at every football club I have been at and every owner I have worked for says we have to stay and we have to be in the Premier League for next season.
"That's always the first priority, notwithstanding we all love the FA Cup, we'd all love to do exceptionally well in it. But look, if you win the FA Cup, like Wigan did and who now find themselves in League One having been relegated after winning that FA Cup. This club cannot afford that."
Sunderland, of course, have won the FA Cup twice, most famously in 1973 when as a second division outfit, they defeated Don Revie's Leeds at Wembley in memorable fashion.
Allardyce was a teenager looking on from afar at the time, but he understands the affection in which the competition is held on Wearside as a result.
He said: "Everybody has enjoyed the FA Cup at some stage or other and everybody would like to get to the final and experience that.
"This club has been there and is remembered very much for Jim Montgomery's couple of saves all those years ago and Bob Stokoe's run on the pitch. I can remember that vividly myself and it had nothing to do with me, I just watched it on the television.
"We are all in love with the FA Cup, but unfortunately priorities change in football and our priority is the Premier League."
With changes likely to be made, Allardyce has indicated that at least one of his youngsters - keeper Jordan Pickford and defender Tom Beadling seem the most likely candidates - will start at the Emirates Stadium.
The Black Cats will once again be without defenders Younes Kaboul (hamstring) and Adam Matthews (foot), and midfielders Sebastian Larsson (knee) and Jack Rodwell (hamstring), while new signing Jan Kirchhoff will not be involved as he awaits international clearance.
However opposite number Arsene Wenger has disputed Allardyce's view.
Wenger, looking for a third successive FA Cup win, still believes the allure of the trophy exists for all clubs taking part.
When asked what impact the midweek Premier League games will have on the FA Cup, he replied: "None, I don't see why the FA Cup should be ostracised or be neglected because of the Premier League.
"When you play in the Champions League, you play on a Wednesday. In the Premier League, you play on a Saturday. Why should you not play Saturday, Tuesday or Wednesday? It's no problem.
"The FA Cup is a great competition. I'm not sure that Sunderland will field a weaker a team. We take care of this competition like everybody does.
"Everybody dreams of winning the FA Cup. There may be some priorities at some stage of the season for some clubs who think they are in trouble and have to make these kinds of decisions, so they choose.
"Maybe he has injuries. I cannot speak for Sam Allardyce. He has given his reasons, I don't know. I can tell you only my point of view - that we want to go for the competition and you take it 100 per cent."
Wenger could make a limited number of changes as his league-leading Gunners face a tricky trip to face Liverpool at Anfield on Wednesday, but one player who will definitely not be involved in either game is forward Alexis Sanchez.
The Chile international injured a hamstring in November's 1-1 draw at Norwich and will not be risked in the coming days.
"Alexis is a bit short to be in the squad to more but is not far," he said.
"Liverpool will come too soon as well. Maybe (he will be available) for Stoke. Everyone is available from last week. Mikel Arteta is available and will be selected because he played 45 minutes on Tuesday with the under-21s."