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Arsenal trust in dynamic duo for Stoke test

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Arsenal’s forward Alexis Sanchez (L) vies with Basel’s midfielder Taulant Xhaka during the UEFA Champions league Group A football match December 6, 2016 © AFP/File / Fabrice COFFRINI

LONDON, United Kingdom, Dec 9Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil will spearhead Arsenal’s attack against Stoke City on Saturday as their ongoing contract talks continue to dominate the club’s off-pitch agenda.

The decisive duo will both be out of contract in 2018 as things stand, prompting fears they could leave the club.

Arsene Wenger has vowed they will not be sold prior to the end of their contracts, but was unable to give fans any assurances about their futures at the Emirates Stadium.

“They have 18 months left on their contract and they are completely committed to do well as long as they are here,” said the Frenchman, whose side trail Premier League leaders Chelsea by three points.

“Beyond that, we’ll try to extend their contracts, but I cannot make that the subject in every press conference because it’s a normal part of every renewal when you renegotiate.

“The less you talk about it, the better it is.”

Sanchez, 27, and Ozil, 28, have been in sparkling form of late as Arsenal have climbed to second place in the league table and secured a place in the Champions League last 16 as group winners.

Arsenal’s Coach Arsene Wenger leads a training session at the club’s complex in London Colney on December 5, 2016 © AFP/File / ADRIAN DENNIS

Wenger added: “These players have 18 months left. They will stay for 18 months and hopefully much longer.

“They’ve been hugely important. You can talk a lot, but the most important thing is what they do on the pitch.

“Their commitment is absolutely total. The first quality of a professional guy is to give 100 percent. It’s here and now, that’s what it means to be professional.”

Arsenal v Stoke has been regarded as a hostile fixture ever since Potters captain Ryan Shawcross broke the leg of Aaron Ramsey in 2010.

Wenger appeared to upset opposite number Mark Hughes when he described his side’s 0-0 draw at Stoke in January as “an old-fashioned Stoke battle”.

– Shaqiri feels ‘more free’ –

Addressing the Welshman’s reservations, which concerned Wenger’s comments about the physical nature of the game, the Arsenal manager said on Thursday: “What is wrong with an old-fashioned battle?

“When you have complete commitment, that makes the English Premier League special. In my mind it was not negative at all.”

Stoke head for north London in excellent form, having lost just once in their last nine games following a poor start to the season.

Stoke City’s midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri (L) runs ahead of Sunderland’s defender Patrick van Aanholt (R) during the English Premier League football match April 30, 2016 © AFP/File / LINDSEY PARNABY

They have maintained their momentum despite a change in formation that has consigned close-season signing Joe Allen, their stand-out player of the season’s early weeks, to a place on the bench.

The Wales midfielder has paid a heavy price for being suspended, which moved Hughes to devise a 3-4-3 system in which Xherdan Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic have licence to roam alongside centre-forward Jonathan Walters.

“You’re more free,” said Switzerland international Shaqiri of the new set-up. “You can stay more in the middle and you can go outside. I like it.

“I think at the moment the whole team is playing well and when you’re performing well and picking up results, you don’t need to change the system.

“When you have more freedom, you can change positions and I can link up with Marko. Also defensively we have a very compact team and that’s very important.”

Stoke have a dismal record at the Emirates Stadium, having lost all eight of their games there since winning promotion in 2008, but they will not lack confidence to take on Wenger’s title-chasing side.

“We are in a very good way to have a good season and we have to keep our run going,” Shaqiri said.

“This weekend we have a difficult game in London against Arsenal, but we go there to achieve something and we know the quality to win every game. We go there trying to take three points, of course.”

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