Sam Allardyce believes overseas imports Yann M’Vila and Wahbi Khazri were always going to endure a dip of form during their first taste of Premier League football.
But the Sunderland boss has backed the pair to make an impact during the final five games of the season, with the Black Cats facing the next stop in their survival charge when Arsenal visit the Stadium of Light tomorrow.
On-loan Ruben Kazan midfielder M’Vila was Sunderland’s stand-out performer during the first half of the campaign, yet fatigue has hampered the French international since the turn of the year – understandably so after starting just seven games at Inter Milan last season.
January buy Khazri immediately made an impression when he arrived at the Stadium of Light in a £9million move from Bordeaux, but the Tunisian has been more subdued in recent games and was taken off at half-time in last weekend’s win at Norwich.
However, Allardyce says the physical intensity of the Premier League takes a big toll on debutants in English football, particularly when they have faced the added mental pressure of Sunderland’s relegation worries.
“We’re fortunate that they did it in the beginning of my time here, otherwise we’d be long gone and relegated,” said Allardyce.
“They came and changed the ability of the team and made massive contributions.
“When everybody says they’re not playing quite as well now... well, the reason is because it was bound to catch up with them.
“They’ve never experienced this level of football before, or not this physical and intense.
“There’s also the mental pressure of what happens in the Premier League.
“That can be difficult to handle, so mentally and physically, it all takes its toll.”
Both Khazri and M’Vila are expected to keep their places against Arsenal tomorrow, with Allardyce likely to name an unchanged line-up for the fourth successive game.
“They have dipped off a little bit, but they’ll come back again in the next five games, and there’s other players to step in if they don’t,” added Allardyce.
“Those players who’ve been waiting for opportunities can come in when I think it’s necessary to either make a substitution or to leave one of the players out.”