A tale of Shkodran Mustafi: The hope, the downfall and failing to fix Arsenal’s roof

By on August 19, 2019

shkodran mustafi arsenal

A HOUSE WITH NO ROOF 

Imagine your football team is your home and your job is to furnish it. Now, the first items on your list are the important ones. Say, a sofa, dining room table and a kitchen. Inevitably the list is endless, however, once you’ve ticked off the big items, you eventually move on to smaller, more tedious tasks; organising the attic, fixing up the paint work or tightening the tap knobs. 

Comparing this to the Arsenal, the club has been relatively successful in re-designing it’s team to compete with the top of the Premier League. In recent years, it has acquired shiny strikers in Aubameyang and Lacazette, brought in some secure and mobile midfielders in Torreira and Ceballos, and a new winger in the record signing of top notch Nicolas Pepe. Arsenal have even started on the tedious tasks by acquiring the likes of Geundouzi and Martinelli to ensure that first team talent is constantly coming through. 

Subsequently, if we consider these selection of players as the lounge and dining room, you’d argue Arsenal have a reasonably enviable home. 

However, as you walk around, enjoying the top spec gadgets and well designed wallpaper, you can’t help but feel a drip falling on to your head. Then as you wonder deeper inside, this drip turns into a drop, and as you look up, you realise, while there are some lovely things in this home, they’ve left a gaping hole in the roof. 

Now, before you go ballistic at the owner for not fixing a very obvious problem, remember that they have in fact, on numerous occasions, attempted to seal this gaping hole but as of yet, none of the builders have been capable.

Back to Arsenal, the gaping hole in the roof is of course, the defence. It’s a position which Arsenal have been in desperate need to reinforce for nearly ten years. And one attempt, probably herald as the most hopeful of all, was the signing of the then recent world cup winner, Shkodran Mustafi, for the hefty sum of £35m.

FIXING THE HOLE WITH MUSTAFI

Born in 1992 to an Albanian family living in German, Mustafi worked his way through the Hamburg youth system before securing a move to Everton aged 19. This high risk move to England never really worked for the defender and after just one fifteen minute substitute appearance he moved on to Italy joining Sampdoria. 

After a positive spell at Sampdoria, Valencia snapped up Shokdran for around 10m and it was in this Spanish coastal city where Mustafi made a real name for himself. He earn’t a Germany call up and due to an injury to Marcos Reus, was part of the squad that went on to win the World Cup in 2014. 

Life was relatively rosey for Mustafi and after continuing to impress for Valencia, he built a reputation as a front footed defender always eager to make the tackle. It was in this vein that lead Arsenal to decide this was the man to fix their leaking defence.

No longer would they live in a house with a hole in the roof. 

While these days £35m sounds like a standard amount, it’s worth remembering that at the time Arsenal were renowned for keeping their pockets tightly sealed, only allowing money to leave when it was deemed absolutely necessary and more importantly, valuable.

Therefore, when Arsene Wenger sanctioned the deadline day sale, everyone assumed it was the start of a new era. And not an era where Arsenal splashed the cash, but rather one where Arsenal didn’t concede goals for fun and stopped making the same mistakes over and over again.  Four years later, how naive we were. 

Nevertheless, after the move, most amongst the Arsenal fanbase were happy to have seen some money spent on a position that was in desperate need of strengthening and like with all new signings, there was an air of optimism.   

Speaking at the time, Wenger said “He is at the right age. He has good experience. He is a very focused player who can play with the ball as well. We have taken a great player but have prepared well for the future.”

On top of this diplomatic response from the Boss, respected Arsenal writer James Mcnicholas, wrote at the time that Mustafi ‘is worth every penny of his transfer fee for Arsenal’’ 

And who could disagree with these thoughts, Mustafi was 24 at the time with the opportunity to command the Arsenal defence for a decade. His competition included an injured Per Mertesaker, a reckless and also injured Gabriel and finally a recently signed twenty year old Rob Holding. He wasn’t exactly up against Adams and Keown in their prime. 

There can be arguments that this situation may have actually worked against Mustafi. Entering a haphazard defence that was in desperate need of organisation, the saviour role was somewhat pushed on him rather than requested. However, when you’re joining the club as a record signing in that position, there should be an air of responsibility along with that. An air that Mustafi has never quite been able to ingest. 

It’s also worth noting that while Wenger was positive when Mustafi signed, he was quoted just previous to Mustafi joining saying ‘’maybe a player is worth £5m but when an English club comes in he is worth £35 or £40m.’’ 

Could this have been his first clues that Arsenal weren’t signing the £35m player everyone had hoped for?

AN OPTIMISTIC OPENING

Mustafi made his debut for Arsenal in a 2-1 win at the Emirates against Southampton on the 16th September and achieved a club record 18 games without defeat. It seemed as though the defender had started well and cemented his position.

Although he struggled to form a partnership with Mertesacker, alongside Koscienly, it felt as though Arsenal had two front footed defenders who were eager to get in front of their defenders and win the fight. For the first time in years there was genuine optimism that Arsenal had fixed their gaping hole. 

The roof was fixed. The house was complete! 

To reinforce this, writing on the 30th September 2016, Steve Stammers of the mirror wrote Mustafi should be considered in the same bracket as Vidic and that if he can stay injury free ‘Arsenal will have a real asset’ in their attempt to win the title. 

Hindsight is of course a wonderful tool and looking back comparisons like these seem laughable. 

Nonetheless, Mustafi was relatively impressive in his debut season for the Gunners. He had shown he was liable to a mistake, sometimes too eager to go to ground or too desperate to get in front of his man when he’d be better to stand off and force the attacker to do something, yet, these all appeared to be teething problems and it was assumed that with a good pre-season, he would come back even stronger. 

THE BEGINNING OF THE DOWNFALL 

In contrast to what fans had hoped, the 2017/18 season saw the true start of Mustafi’s downfall. The mistakes which everyone had hoped would be ironed out began to amplify, and on top of these, other issues developed. 

The first of Mustafi’s frequent mistakes and the most obvious to recognise is his absolute eagerness to go to ground. The man is incapable of standing an attacker up. Instead, as soon as the ball is within ten feet of him, Mustafi will lunge forward at all costs, attempting obscene sliding tackles.  

When this risky tactic comes off, Mustafi completes an impressive interception (these tackles help Mustafi have the best statistics of Arsenal defenders), however, when it does not come off, Mustafi leaves a worrying gap in the Arsenal defence and allows any strike force to easily pass around the disorganised defence.

Mustafi’s second major issue is the waving of his hand for an offside that doesn’t exist, or equally appealing for a foul. See Arguero’s goal in 2017 Carabao Cup final for a fine example. 

Another one of Mustafi’s errors is to be flat footed and allow an attacker to get to the ball before him, or to just not follow his man’s run, allowing the striker to simply peel off the headless defender and put the ball past the Arsenal goalkeeper.

And it is in these moments where Musafi shows his major cause for concern. Mustafi will, without fail, throw his arms around, screaming at nearby teammates, when the whole stadium and fans at home are all blatantly aware that the man deserving of the blame is the German himself. 

It’s attitudes like these which saw the Arsenal fanbase become disillusioned with Mustafi. There’s a way to make mistakes, and blaming teammates who are putting effort in is not the correct way. More so, it was quickly becoming apparent to fans and pundits alike that Mustafi was not learning.

One hopes the Arsenal coaches were showing Mustafi his errors, trying to coach him in to improving as a player and learning from his setbacks. Yet, the proof is in the pudding in that Mustafi has never learnt. He’s never improved and continues to make identical errors.

By the end of Arsene Wenger’s reign, the fan base had had enough of Mustafi. It had been accepted he was not the answer, and once again that gaping hole in the roof was back. Unfortunately now it was larger than ever. 

NEW MANAGER, SAME OLD MISTAKES 

There are rumours that Arsenal have tried to sell Mustafi in every window since he signed. Whether that is true or not cannot be confirmed. However, what is clear is that with the arrival of Unai Emery, the Arsenal defence was not going to built around Mustafi.

With Sokratis signing and Rob Holding showing real signs of a quality defender in the making, as well as Calum Chambers returning from Middlesbrough, many Arsenal fans hoped for the end of Mustafi’s Arsenal career.

However, with Koscienly’s major injury and Chambers moving to Fulham on loan, Mustafi was back in the fray for a starting position. Fans were forced to put their faith in the defender, however, by the end of the campaign, everyone would be united in their total disdain towards the German.

Looking through the statistics, you’d be led to believe it was a relatively successful season for the defender. Playing 25 times in the Premier League, Mustafi had a better tackling, interception and clearance rate than any of his defensive teammates.

Except, while stats are good at measuring data that happened, they can’t pick up things that didn’t happen, say, marking your man on a corner. Or following a run, not leaving a gaping hole in defence and giving the attacker some sort of resistance to getting in front of the ball.

There are numerous incidents which could be picked apart but the one which will linger longest in Arsenal fans minds is the one where they threw their season away.

April 21st 2018, Arsenal vs Crystal Palace. Arsenal hadn’t lost at home for 251 days, they’d won ten games on the trot at the Emirates and Benteke hadn’t scored for over a year. All of those records would go on to be broken. 

Mustafi’s most memorable moment was the moment he decided to pathetically shield Zaha off the ball, expecting his keeper to collect the ball, only for Zaha to easily shuffle past Mustafi’s weak wall and slot the ball into the net.

There was so much wrong with this goal from Mustafi’s point of view, but it’s the way he blames goalkeeper Bernd Leno that really grinds the gears of Arsenal fans and proves once and fall that his time at the club must come to an end. 

END OF THE LINE

Arsenal have had a very successful transfer window, bringing in quality reinforcement and spending a substantial amount of money. However, one transfer that would brighten up all fans faces is the sale of Mustafi.

The international window remains open until the 2nd of September, and while it is difficult to demand a substantial price for a player who is clearly unwanted, it’s even harder when the player doesn’t want to leave. 

Contracted until 2021, it is believed Mustafi is happy to stay and fight for his place. He is enjoying life in London and has no interest in uprooting his family. This is a completely understandable position, and on top of the logistically struggles that come with moving country, there’s also the issue that a potential new suitor will not pay the wages that Mustafi is currently collecting, believed to be slightly under £100,000 a week.

So what’s next? Well, with a recent clip of Mustafi blocking a bus lane on Saturday, which subsequently stopped fans getting to the pub before the Burnley match, it seems there’s no room in Arsenal fans hearts for Mustafi. 

Therefore, the responsibility is pushed to Raul Salheni, aka Don Raul, with all followers of the club hoping he can work his magic and find a club to rid Arsenal of Mustafi. 

For a player who joined with such hope, with the potential to fix a leaking roof, it’s a shame he leaves having not completed his mission. However, football has no time for fantasies. The reality is, it hasn’t worked and for all Arsenal fans, the most important thing is to fix the defence.

David Luiz has joined, Sokratis is solid and Chambers and Holding both seem eager to cement their places for the season. The Arsenal defence is slowly improving, and while everyone hoped it would be Mustafi commanding it, it hasn’t worked out like that, and now, it’s time to leave him out to dry. 

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