Shkodran Mustafi became Arsenal’s most expensive defender of all time in 2016, and as like most signings, the transfer saga surrounding him dragged on all summer. When he joined the Arsenal ranks in a 2-1 win over Southampton, he seemed like the defensive sentinel we needed him to be. His tactical awareness was faultless, as was the chemistry he had conjured up with the rest of the defence (particularly Koscielny). Mustafi then went on to beat a
commendable record, once held by Bacary Sagna, as he enjoyed 18 consecutive unbeaten games after debuting for the club; by this point, Arsenal fans were drooling at the sight of the new stalwart in the ‘Great wall of Arsenal’. However, Mustafi then went on to pick up an injury which would side-line him for a considerable period of time and the rest has been misery in comparison. Unfortunately, Mustafi seems to have continued this lack lustre form into the new season; and while we cannot jump to conclusions after seeing him in his first game back, in a new formation, surrounded by new teammates, for a £35 million defender, his performances simply are not good enough, especially if we are to challenge for the title. So, is it time to cash in on Shkodran, or do we risk waiting for him to pick up the scintillating form of old we were used to seeing?
To start off, by no way am I saying that Mustafi is not fit to wear the shirt or anything like that. Mustafi has been able to prove time and time again that he can be a perfectly capable defender. At the age of 25, Mustafi has had more experience than most defenders his age. Not only did Shkodran learn the English style of play in a youth team spell at Everton between 2009 and 2012, he also played his hand in Germany with Hamburg, Italy with Sampdoria, and in Spain with his previous club, Valencia. He’s also become one of Germany’s top picks when it comes to defensive options for the national team; proven by his selections in both of Germany’s respective cup wins over the past three years, with the World and Confederations cup. Nevertheless, the point still stands: Mustafi has not lived up to expectations. After his injury last season, one could visibly see that he was not the same player we had raved about in the beginning of that same Premier league campaign. Errors began to rack up; with a culmination of fouls, defensive mishaps and misplaced passes. Towards the end of last season, Arsenal fans were fed up of seeing him on the team sheet. With the afore mentioned Confederations cup occurring over the Summer, Gunners hoped to see Shkodran reignite that form which saw him so highly tipped for selection in September, and indeed they did. Mustafi put together a few impressive performances as a dubbed “leader” of a youthful German side, and he spurred them to victory. So far, so good for the upcoming season, right? Wrong.
In my opinion, the mixture of generous holiday breaks and missing out on a pre-season tour did not help Shkodran’s integration back into the team. In all honesty, Wenger should’ve put the defence to the top of his priorities after signing Alexandre Lacazette. Instead, we have dawdled around transfers and the spine of the team has suffered. Since coming back into the squad, Mustafi has been mediocre at best. While you cannot blame him solely for his performances: to start with, he’s been pushed out to right centre back while a left back plays a central role; Mustafi cannot blame anybody but himself for defensive errors and misplaced passes. Why, if you’ve never chanced your hand at it before, trying to ping long balls from defence to players that clearly aren’t expecting it? Players are far more used to getting pinpoint passes from the likes of Granit Xhaka; that’s the whole purpose of a deep lying playmaker. Against a team like Stoke, you can’t afford to make these kinds of mistakes. Not only will Stoke hurt you on the counter-attack, as shown with Jese’s strike just after Half-time, they will also not let you back into the game. He’s played against them before, surely he knows what he’s up against? It’s just not acceptable.
Wenger’s comments this week were cryptic, to say the least. Wenger refused to comment on difficult “individual” circumstances, like the future of Shkodran Mustafi, leaving us with two questions: Has Wenger, like some Gooners, lost faith in Shkodran; and if so, have we got sufficient replacements? At this moment in time, certainly not. However, if players like Virgil Van Dijk and Kostas Manolas are brought in, I would definitely be prepared to let him go, especially if we can sell him onfor a similar figure to how much we bought him for.
Ultimately, while Shkodran Mustafi enjoyed a bright start to life at the Emirates, he was simply never the same after a mid-season injury; on which saw him lose the form which made him so highly rated among the fans. Even after one season at the club, I feel that it could be curtains for Shkodran at the Emirates.
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