According to some, it seems almost inevitable that Shkodran Mustafi will soon be on his way out of Arsenal either in the January transfer window or more likely, in the summer.
The player has never truly settled in an Arsenal side that has been subjected to uncertainty and unrest but he hasn’t given up, yet. Depending who you talk to and probably on the result of a single match, Mustafi seems to be portrayed as the hero or the villian and the same player is seen as our best or worst defender, often in the same game.
Former boss, Arsene Wenger nearly sold the German to Inter Milan in his last season at the club but the German was kept, essentially because Arsenal couldn’t find a replacement and all the other available options were considered to be weaker.
Mustafi, who arrived for a staggering £35 million in 2016, has struggled in the premier league, appearing slow, naive and somewhat clumsy.
There is no doubt he has improved but he is guilty of glaring inconsistencies which have cost Arsenal points.
Emery’s inherited problem is the inability to find a central defensive partnership that works.
It’s no secret that Mustafi and Kosceilny are not bosom buddies. The Frenchman allegedly made it clear that his counterpart was not going to feature on his Christmas card list after only a few months at the club.
The two argued and nearly came to blows at the training ground and at one point were barely on speaking terms.
Surprisingly their performances together didn’t collapse and on occasion, they were reasonably reasonably impressive.
However, the lack of chemistry and understanding between the pair became obvious and it was clearly a factor in Wenger’s decision to sell, because he had to make a straight choice between retaining his captain or the World Cup winning German.
Fortunately for Mustafi, Kosceilny sustained an Achilles injury against Atletico Madrid and Wenger had one less immediate problem to solve in an already complicated season.
Probably the only time that Mustafi has appeared comfortable was when he played with Per Mertesacker but that meant that pace was in desperately short supply and that both central defenders couldn’t venture to far out of position.
There has been lots of criticism of the German who wrongly became the focus of various poor showings and bad results.
Jamie Carragher, Sky’s spitting pundit said of Mustafi
“I think Mustafi is more culpable than anyone in terms of his starting position and can he do more to stop the cross?
“He’s got to do much more to stop the cross, he doesn’t actually attempt to stop it, throw your leg at it, do something.”
Arsenal legend Martin Keown said in March last year
“Mustafi seems to still be making the same mistakes he made earlier this season.”
“If we look at last week against Southampton against Shane Long, a little run made to the near post and his body shape was all incorrect, he’s not looking at a possible opponent and he gets done at the near post. The same thing happened again.”
Sky sports Alan McInally slammed Mustafi, labelling him “embarrassing” and “a joke”.
Okay, so that’s all the negatives out of the way, so let’s look for positives in a player who seems to take more than his fair amount of stick. Mustafi is a committed, composed, aggressive, combative player, who is no stranger to putting in a robust challenge or two. He is physically strong and likes a tussle for the ball, what he lacks in pace, he makes up for with desire.
Mustafi‘s main problem appears to have been the unfair expectations placed on his shoulders after being involved with a World Cup winning squad. He is young enough to get substantially better but the burden of playing for Germany and Arsenal must have been intense and once cracks started to appear, his confidence and self belief must have been undermined.
He also played in desperately rickety defence which had no defensive midfield shield but that has subsequently been rectified with the addition of Lucas Torreira.
Should Emery decide to keep him, he needs to fathom who is the best candidate to partner him. If he remains unconvinced by the player, he needs to sell him on.
At the moment, with the inexperience, injuries and lack of quality, it would be wise to think of Mustafi as Arsenal’s only proven defender.
Emery has already managed to improve Xhaka and Iwobi, perhaps he can bring the best out of the German in the coming seasons, assuming he stays put.