Mustafi, what an enigma.
At Arsenal, we are prone to gaffes. Manuel Almunia, Lukas Fabianski, Sebastian Squillaci, Mikael Silvestre – all shared the inherent ability to perform slapstick on the football pitch.
At the perfect moment that would cost us games.
They became comedy figures of sorts, the examples we hold up to be the barometer for transfer failure – “let’s hope we don’t sign another Andre Santos,” etc.
Shkodran Mustafi has that very same thread in his footballing DNA. His concentration seems to slip at the most precious of moments, leading to a goal conceded and there is no place to hide for the German.
He has been vilified, labelled and cast aside, a makeweight for daydream transfers so we can not only bring another in, but we can also get shot of the man who costs us points – double bubble.
Mustafi however, has a class defender within him. Those instances where he costs us games? They take about half a minute to unfurl. For the rest of the ninety minutes, he is the first to react, the strongest in the air and on the deck, he more often than not ends up with the ball.
His stats this season are pretty epic and they have been put in contrast to Manchester United mega-buy, Harry Maguire. When it comes to aerial duels and tackles, Mustafi not only beats Maguire in those departments, he nearly doubles the England international.
Yet it is Maguire who is held up as the paragon of defending, the man holding up United in a storm. Mustafi is still the villain of the piece, and yet the German continues to be picked by every manager he has played under. Wenger, Emery and now Arteta have opted to select Mustafi rather than leave him to rot on the bench.
It kind of points to the fact that while Mustafi may have a ‘Monty Python moment’ in his game, he more than makes up for it when he is on the pitch. He has also shown immense character to fight in the face of some real hatred from his own club’s fans – not something all players are capable of.
So consider this a note of appreciation for Mustafi – a man misunderstood and still fighting to rip off the label that has stuck to him.