Arsenal: Shkodran Mustafi personifies Emirates malaise
The German defender was a big-money arrival from Valencia but his standard and style of play shows why the Gunners have fallen from grace.
There is an argument that Arsenal are the most predictable team in England’s top flight.
Whether it is the general trajectory of their season or a game-by-game analysis, they are flaky on the road, often remarkably so, but when facing sides outside of the top six at the Emirates they usually record very comfortable victories.
Every match involving the Gunners currently carries with it a feeling of emptiness: they have nothing else to play for domestically and their Europa League progress to date has been relatively serene.
After losing six games in eight, Arsene Wenger’s side have now won six matches in a row and have notched up 18 goals in the process. Those last five victories have all arrived at the Emirates to a backdrop of empty seats and often empty celebrations.
Strengths and weaknesses
Sunday’s victory over Southampton will ultimately prove futile in an attempt for a top four slot but it again highlighted both the strengths and weaknesses of this side.
They are significantly stronger than any side in the bottom half, they maximise their home advantage and they can score quite a few goals in the process.
Yet equally, too many of their players produce indecisive performances which are devoid of the genuine quality to allow Arsenal to challenge those above them.
Shkodran Mustafi is a case in point. At times it is easy to forget the central defender is just 25 and has time on his side to improve yet all the signs point to the fact he has regressed since moving to North London.
The club paid a whopping £35 million to prise him from Valencia in August 2016 but, despite winning 20 caps for the German national side, he has shown little to either justify that price tag or suggest any improvement.
His high-profile error in the build-up to Manchester City’s first goal in the League Cup final – where he was eased from a challenge by Sergio Aguero – suggested both a lack of concentration and ruthlessness.
His error-strewn performance in Sunday’s victory over Southampton once again suggested he was lacking real motivation and drive.
Strong in the air and providing a real threat offensively from set-pieces, he appears to have the fundamental skillset to thrive in the Premier League but he has done anything.
However, he is not a top-class defender and, whilst it is unfair to pinpoint him for Arsenal’s relative lack of decisiveness defending, he has certainly played a role.
To do or not to do?
One of the problems with Mustafi’s approach is that he seems caught between action and non-action.
Often, his highest profile errors have come as the result of failing to take responsibility, hoping that by not acting the situation might be defused. Think, for example, of the Aguero goal in the Carabao Cup final.
But at other times, his all-action approach puts his teammates under pressure and puts himself at risk of giving away fouls in key areas.
Mustafi’s price tag – the eighth-highest for a defender – and his status as an established German international perhaps raise expectations among fans and pundits alike but Arsenal must hope he learns from his mistakes and offers a greater element of control into his play.
As things stand, he epitomises Arsenal’s isolation from England’s leading clubs.
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