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English Premiership

Arsenal face defining period, says Xhaka

Arsenal’s Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka (L) tackles West Bromwich Albion’s Argentinian midfielder Claudio Yacob during the English Premier League match at the Emirates Stadium in London on December 26, 2016 © AFP/File / IAN KINGTON

LONDON, United Kingdom, Jan 21 – Granit Xhaka admits Arsenal’s Premier League clash with Burnley on Sunday marks the start of a defining period as the Gunners battle to get back in the title race.

Arsene Wenger’s side have fallen eight points behind leaders Chelsea and can’t afford many more stumbles if they are to catch their London rivals.

After Burnley’s visit to the Emirates Stadium, Arsenal face an FA Cup fourth round trip to Southampton and a home league game against Watford before a must-win showdown with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

It is a crucial period that Switzerland midfielder Xhaka believes could determine if Arsenal will be in the hunt for silverware at the end of the season.

“I think firstly it was important to win at Swansea and the way we did with the 4-0 win there,” Xhaka said.

“Then we have the two home games coming up against Burnley and Watford.

“To be honest, I see it in the same way as the boss, these next three games could really tell a lot about what direction we are going to go in this season.”

If Arsenal are to win the title for the first time since 2004, they will need focused performances from Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, but Wenger has so far offered no updates on the apparent impasse over the duo’s proposed new contracts.

The pair both have 18 months remaining and are believed to be seeking parity with the Premier League’s top players to extend their spells in north London

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However, Xhaka believes Sanchez, who was visibly frustrated after being substituted during Arsenal’s 4-0 win over Swansea last weekend, is the perfect example of how a player should approach the game.

“Alexis Sanchez can be a really big role model,” he said. “The reason is that he always goes to his absolute limit in both training and in the game.

I think that attitude and application is something that any players can take something from.”

– Awayday blues –

Wenger will welcome back Hector Bellerin, Kieran Gibbs and Francis Coquelin after injuries, while in-form striker Olivier Giroud is fit despite being forced off at Swansea with an ankle problem.

Burnley manager Sean Dyche is set for a triple boost as Ashley Barnes, Dean Marney and Johann Berg Gudmundsson return from injuries after missing the midweek FA Cup win over Sunderland.

Burnley have defied predictions they would struggle to avoid relegation following last season’s promotion, climbing to 10th in the table after three wins in their last four league games.

Despite that impressive rise, Dyche’s side have a dismal away record, losing eight of nine games on their travels and scoring just three goals.

A trip to Arsenal doesn’t look like a good opportunity to halt that barren run, but Clarets midfielder Jeff Hendrick insists a change in fortune is well overdue.

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“We’ve come off the pitch away from home and even though we’ve been beaten we’ve had a good feeling because the performances have been better,” he said.

“The first thing we needed to do was to start playing more like ourselves when we’re on the road, and we’ve definitely done that in the last few games, and the next step is to pick up the points.

“We’ve put in the performances and we’ve worked hard to get the points. Now we’ve got to kick on and keep putting in the performances and get as many points as we can.”


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