London - Alexis 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.
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."
Also read: Perez hat-trick propels Gunners to first place
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
- 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.
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."For
the latest on national news, politics, sport, entertainment and more follow us
on Twitter and like our Facebook page.