Arsenal have been showing signs of improvement under Mikel Arteta. They did get knocked out of the Europa League this past mid-week. But that shouldn’t be an indicator for the job Arteta is doing as a whole. Multiple players have improved and one of them is Shkodran Mustafi.
The German had become a subject of ridicule under Unai Emery. He was constantly blamed for errors that he made, letting the team down. He was linked with a move to Monaco but he ended up staying, as David Luiz came in from Chelsea.
But things have been changing for Mustafi since the turn of the year. Arteta’s side has kept three cleansheets since 2020 began– a marked improvement from the Emery days. Mustafi has been key to that improvement, making many think if he has what it takes to stay and play next season too.
The German is currently 27. Bar one, he has started every game in the league in 2020 under Arteta. His best showing came against Burnley when he won eight aerial duels and made nine clearances for the Gunners. Throughout this phase, he’s shown that he’s well capable of holding his own in the Premier League.
Arteta lauded him recently. The Spaniard said: “I said to him that he could make a mistake but I like his reaction afterwards and the courage he had to play and make decisions.
“He’s been training really well and I think you could see today how good he was.”
This is his first convincing spell in a long while, as he’s impressive against Newcastle and the two games against Olympiacos. While David Luiz and Sokratis were brought in as short-term stop-gap options, Mustafi is someone who is younger and was signed as more of a long-term player.
While things hadn’t worked out for him initially, he had time on his side, unlike Sokratis and Luiz. William Saliba was signed from St. Etienne and sent back on loan, while Rob Holding and Callum Chambers have been facing regular injury issues. Kieran Tierney too is yet to return to first-team action after his arm injury.
During this period of problem, Mustafi has held his own. Bar the ages, it is crucial to remember that Mustafi’s current deal at the Emirates runs out in the summer of 2021. Saliba returns in the summer, leaving Arsenal with as many as six or seven CB options. Mustafi is in the middle-range of the age spectrum, with Saliba at one extreme.
Unlike Mustafi, Luiz is known to be a leader. He might be prone to making errors but his ability on the ball has made Arteta keep him in the side. He is known to be a vocal personality, even though he’s ageing. Mustafi isn’t the best on the ball and isn’t a leader.
That is one aspect of his style that Arteta might not find desirable when it is decision-time. Bar the ongoing impressive spell, he has nothing extra-ordinary about himself like Luiz has despite age. The others are young and have the promise to be better players. That isn’t the case with Mustafi- once again.
More so, the German is 27. That is an age when clubs are willing to sign players for a good value. Once he enters the final year of his contract, his value will decrease no matter what. Considering Arsenal spent €41 million on him, they can’t afford to make a huge loss and let him leave for free or for peanuts.
And there might be better value in many other defenders. Fabian Schar, for example, has been silently doing a consistent job at Newcastle. He is of the same age-group at Mustafi and adds more reliability than the former Valencia man.
If there’s anything that can change Arsenal’s mind though, it is Mustafi himself. If he keeps performing at this level till the end of the season, he will always have a chance of staying.