How much longer will Arsenal persist with Shkodran Mustafi?

At the time, it appeared a shrewd signing. A World Cup winner with Germany in 2014, Shkodran Mustafi looked to be a solid addition for Arsenal in the summer of 2016. The Gunners needed defensive reinforcements and the German, signed from Valencia for a fee of £35 million, seemed to fit the bill.

Since then, though Mustafi has become a perpetual source of frustration and exasperation for Arsenal fans. Never before has the Emirates Stadium faithful seen such an error prone player, and that’s saying something given the calamity merchants that have rolled through the club in recent years. On Tuesday, they were forced to watch another gaffe from the 26-year-old.


In Tuesday’s friendly against Al Nasr, played in Dubai following a few days of warm weather training during the international break, Mustafi was at fault. Again. The German fell over not once, but twice as he attempted to block Ronnie Fernandez for the opener, playing something closer to crab football than anything resembling the professional game. It was comical, although not from an Arsenal standpoint.

Of course, this was a meaningless mistake. This was just a friendly, but Mustafi has become a liability in much bigger games, in the Premier League and Europa League this season. At this stage, it’s remarkable that he continues to hold down a place in Unai Emery’s starting lineup.

Mustafi has failed time and time again to learn from his mistakes. His gaffes can be traced all the way back to last season, when costly lapses in concentration were made in the Carabao Cup final against Manchester City and Premier League games against Southampton and Newcastle United.

The German has carried his gaffe-prone ways over to this season. He is a source of the defensive insecurity that continues to dog Arsenal in the post-Arsene Wenger age. Emery has done his best to overhaul the culture of mediocrity that lingers at the Emirates Stadium, but until players like Mustafi are cast aside he won’t be able to do that entirely.

Arsenal must look to sell Mustafi as soon as possible. Far too frequently in the past the Gunners have shown faith in players who do not deserve it. Mustafi is one such player and so even if it takes taking a financial hit, which would likely be the case, the 26-year-old must be pushed out the door.

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Unai Emery is right about Arsenal’s defence

The first step to change is the acceptance of a problem in the first place. This seemed beyond Arsene Wenger, who time and time again refused to acknowledge Arsenal, under his charge, had become a soft touch at the back. Everyone could see their defence was vulnerable, prone to weakness at the worst possible moments, but Wenger couldn’t.

This is just one of the reasons the Frenchman was pushed out of the club at the end of last season. In Unai Emery, the Gunners now have a manager who is intent on changing things, and progress has been made over the first few months of the season, with Arsenal once again one of the most exhilarating teams to watch in the Premier League.

Bellerin-Emery (1)

However, at the back the same old problems persist. Arsenal have, more than once, looked shaky in defence, but at least Emery recognises there are problems to be addressed. That’s more than could have been said about Wenger, whose stubbornness became his worst quality over time.

“Before Wenger came, Arsenal celebrated 1-0 and were based on defensive solidity,” the Spaniard explained in an interview given to the Spanish press earlier this week. “With Arsene, joy came from attacking, with players of good standing. And the perfect combination was the Invincibles.

“But over time, only technical quality and offensive freedom were taken care of, losing the defensive structure. What I want is to unite both essences and be more competitive. Arsenal was in decline. We had to stop it and start climbing.”

As demonstrated across the Premier League, defensive resolution is difficult to instil in a team. There is a global shortage of top class centre backs at the moment, explaining why Liverpool were so desperate to sign Virgil Van Dijk for a club record fee of £70 million last January. Emery has yet to settle on his defensive formula, at least one that works.

So far Shokdran Mustafi and Sokratis Papastathopoulos have been used as Arsenal’s centre back pairing, with Hector Bellerin on the left of the defence and Nacho Monreal on the left. Bellerin has rediscovered his form this season, with Monreal his usual consistent self. But at the heart of the defence, Mustafi and Sokratis have proved less than convincing… and that’s putting it mildly.

It could take some time for the former Paris Saint-Germain and Sevilla boss to get things right at the back – just look at how long it took Jurgen Klopp to settle on a defensive line at Liverpool. But as least Emery knows there is a problem. Whether it’s through coaching or through signings made in the transfer market, the defensive process has only just started at Arsenal.

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Same old Arsenal

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It’s been 15 years since Arsenal last won the Premier League title. 15 long years.

Almost as many as the gap between their title wins in 1971 and 1989.

That’s far from where the Gunners want to be at this juncture, and whether the blame lies with Arsene Wenger or the board is a moot point.

Since Unai Emery has taken over, nothing really has changed. It’s not a knock at the Spaniard as such, because he can’t possibly be judged on a handful of games, but it would’ve been expected that he’d make an impact.

Perhaps not even in results terms initially, but in the way that the team is set up.

It’s not wrong to hark back to the days of Adams, Bould, Dixon and Winterburn. The game has moved on of course, but one thing hasn’t changed and that is teams who win the title are built on the bedrock of a solid defence.

Even with the addition of Sokratis to partner Mustafi, you feel that this Arsenal side are still beatable.

One only has to look at the way they threw away a two-goal lead at Cardiff, and how lucky they were that Alexandre Lacazette was able to rescue the three points for them.

Similarly, West Ham were all over the Gunners in their fixture but were unable to convert their dominance into goals. Manuel Pellegrini has his own problems, but at least with the east Londoners, not an awful lot is expected of them in truth.

Arsenal have always been a gold standard outfit.

Able to attract the best players, and playing a brand of football that was both attractive and practical. There were players to put their foot in, and these would complement the more technical exponents. They were diligent in their work.

Now Arsenal just look lost, and the reality is that they’re becoming the same old Arsenal. It’s what’s expected.

The knee-jerk ‘fan tv’ assessments directly after a game aren’t helpful but, by and large, some supporters have a point.

If there were a core of players that would ‘put sweat on the shirt’ for want of a better phrase, those that pay their hard-earned every week would give these overpaid superstars their full backing.

But when you have players like Mesut Ozil just strolling around seemingly not worried with what’s happening around him, then there will be problems.

In the Europa League and now unable to attract the best players to the Emirates, unless Emery sorts it out quickly it’ll be another 15 years before Arsenal come close to the Premier League summit.

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EPL Game of the Weekend – Chelsea 3-2 Arsenal


The most exciting match from the second week of the 2018-19 Premier League season saw Chelsea defeat Arsenal 3-2 at Stamford Bridge, with Maurizio Sarri’s side surrendering a two-goal lead before striking late on through Marcos Alonso to pick up their second win in as many games.

Both teams put away chances in the first half, with Pedro and Alvaro Morata scoring for the hosts before quickfire goals from Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi for the Gunners to level things up just before half-time, but it was the 2016-17 champions who earned the early-season bragging rights in this London derby.

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Premier League Team Of The Week – 30

Manchester City registered another win this weekend to take a huge step towards the league title. City’s 2-0 win
at Stoke City ensured that they still have a 16-point lead at the top with eight games to go.

City have 81 points and they are on course to touch the 100-mark this season. The most-awaited fixture of the week saw Liverpool travel to Manchester United. The Red Devils prevailed 2-1 against their arch-rivals.
Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham also won their respective games. Continue reading

La Liga stars set to clash in El Clasico- Video Preview

There’s no Christmas break for fantasy managers so Nicholas Carroll is back with another Euro Fantasy League preview of the weekend’s fixtures. Continue reading

Video preview – Rotations and injuries cause chaos across Europe

Nicholas Carroll is back with another Euro Fantasy League preview ahead of the upcoming round of fixtures. Continue reading