Arse­nal trust in dynamic duo for Stoke test

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -


Alexis Sanchez and Me­sut Ozil will spear­head Arse­nal’s at­tack against Stoke City to­day 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.

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”.

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.

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 li­cense 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.”— AFP

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