This post was prompted by yet more whingeing from Arsenal fans about Mustafi after a failed block in a friendly in Dubai, for heaven’s sake.
Shkodran Mustafi signed for Arsenal from Valencia in August 2016 for a reputed fee of £35m. In his first two seasons under Arsene Wenger he played 26 and 27 games respectively, missing a few games in both with hamstring and thigh muscle problems. For quite a while now, he has been the whipping boy of the Arsenal fans and many were hoping to see the back of him at the end of last season.
With the long-term injury to Kos, this never looked likely to happen. Under Unai Emery, Sokratis had been bought from Dortmund in the summer and Rob Holding chosen to fight for a first team place in preference to the unlucky Calum Chambers, who was sent out on loan to progress his playing time.
Almost undetected, Herr Mustafi has become an invaluable part of the Arsenal squad. Unai Emery chose him to be the regular partner of Sokratis at the start of the season. When Papa was injured in October, Rob Holding stepped into the breach to partner Shkodran and quickly looked to be maturing into the role very nicely indeed. Rob’s injury in the away game at the Old Cowshed has been absorbed by the gradual return of Captain Koscielny and by Papa establishing himself as a no-nonsense old school defender who can adjust to the rigours of Premier League football.
Throughout these upheavals, and aside from a hamstring in December which kept him out for 7 games, Mustafi has been a constant in the Arsenal defence. Admittedly part of that has been down to the shift to a back three to allow Sead Kolasinac into his favoured left wing back position, but even so, Shkodran has never baulked at his opportunities to pull on the red and white (or pistachio!) shirt of the mighty Gunners.
His 24 appearances are testament to that. So far he has played 1987 minutes of Arsenal League season, the 5th highest. Can he really be as terrible as everyone makes out? Let’s take a look at some of his other stats.
Shkodran makes on average 3.4 aerial duels per game which is the highest for any Arsenal player. He also tops Interceptions at 1.9 p.g. and Clearances 5.3 p.g. These are not the stats of the completely incompetent player we see described all over the Arsenal blogosphere.
How about his passing? Is it the accident waiting to happen constantly mentioned on twitter. Well, it’s surprising to find out that he’s third on the list of Arsenal passers at 1319 in terms of volume, a hundred less than 2nd placed Torreira. Yes, a fair few of those have been sideways or back to the keeper as the team attempts to implement Unai’s ‘playing out from the back’ policy, but his pass accuracy is 83% and according to the official stats he hasn’t made any errors directly leading to a goal.
His tackles made and fouls conceded per game are both 4th in the list and he sits on 6 yellows, the same as Torreira, 2 behind Xhaka and 3 behind our imperturbable Greek. Have we paid for his perceived tendency to launch himself into reckless challenges? It appears not quite as much as his reputation would have us believe.
Yes, he may end up on his backside on occasion and the odd pass may go astray but all players make mistakes. The odd lapse shouldn’t discount the other 98% of a player’s overall performance. Can anyone remember when Koscielny was coming under constant criticism for not being good enough in his first couple of seasons?
Shkodran played in one of our best performances at home to Liverpool, was subbed on 70 minutes in the thrilling home victory against the spuds with Arsenal pushing for the win and he also scored the first goal away at Man U.
Yes, our first choice centre back pairing has become Kos and Papa in a back four but don’t rule out a few more starts for Mr Mustafi in the run-in – especially if we go to a back 5 to make room for the Bosnian battering ram.
Here’s Mustafi’s bullet header from the away game in Cardiff back in early September.
This season Unai has relied on the German Albanian enough for him to have started 80% of our League games. In a reasonably successful season so far for the Club, can we really say Mustafi hasn’t earnt his money as a decent squad player?
I suppose what I’m getting at is, regardless of what may or may not happen in the summer, please cut poor old Shkodran some slack. He may well yet play a crucial part in this season’s finale as we seek a CL place, be it either through the League, or via the Europa Cup.