It’s fair to say that Shkodran Mustafi has had a difficult Arsenal career to this point. Whether it’s been errors that have led to goals, wayward passing or dodgy positioning, there’s been plenty of evidence for his critics to point to.
However, as the Mikel Arteta revolution continues, the German defender is enjoying a renaissance in north London – and it’s a remarkable turnaround all things considered.
At the beginning of the season, Unai Emery had publicly announced that Mustafi and Mohamed Elneny should ‘find another challenge’.
Elneny duly took note and left for Besiktas, but Mustafi stayed at the Emirates Stadium.
Fast forward to the Arteta reign, and the defender has now started seven games in a row and looks certain to finish the season as an important part of the Arsenal defence.
During his run in the team, a usually porous Arsenal side are showcasing a fortitude that hasn’t been apparent at all this season. They had managed three clean sheets in a row before the weekend’s win against Everton, taking their tally to 11 in 38 matches.
The German had a more difficult task to win back fans as there was enough compelling evidence and weight of public opinion suggesting that his Premier League credentials are no longer valid.
But Mustafi is now part of a much more organised Arsenal side that is attempting to shed the labels of defensive ineptitude. He is showing better decision-making, sounder positioning and a clear understanding of what the head coach wants.
In Sokratis, Arteta could choose a more experienced defender that the majority of football fans would take over Mustafi. However, the latter’s ability on the ball – his cross-field passing is particularly strong – and reading of the game is just of a better standard than the Greek defender right now.
While Arsenal’s most recent game against a rested Everton side showcased a defensive fragility, it was also their third game in seven days. There were certainly some chaotic moments but Mustafi wasn’t the weak link in what appeared to be a fatigued lineup.
He was a solid factor in a defence that was certainly tested – his performance in the game was the standout of the back four. While there were plenty of individual errors, it was Mustafi that was doing the cleaning up at the back.
Club legend Ian Wright told Premier League Productions (via the Metro): “Mustafi is playing fantastic now, it wasn’t long ago that after the Chelsea game I thought he was someone they had to move on. It seems like he’s [Arteta] getting a tune out of him now.”
While this is no point to crown Mustafi a world-beater or a Premier League great, it’s important to note that the German has gone some way to win back credit with Arsenal fans.
An extended run until the end of the season will be a huge factor in convincing those on the fence of his ability, but it’s been a miraculous turnaround for a player that was deemed unplayable.