4-0, 3-1, 3-1, 4-2, 3-1, 3-0, 3-0… Arsenal has had a lot of bad results this campaign. The club is heading towards a 6th place finish (the lowest point in Wenger’s career) because of weaknesses like terrible away form, carelessness in possession, and a stifled attack. When a club is having a bad season, a porous defence is often to blame. That’s certainly one major issue this campaign, with the club currently at 41 goals allowed. With just 8 more games left in Premier League play, it’s still possible that the club will allow the most goals in a campaign in over a quarter of a century if they let in at least 9 more.
But, if you’re looking for your fair share of negativity about who’s to blame, what players should be brought in, who should be dropped, you won’t find it here. The league positions are all but wrapped up. Arsenal will most likely finish 6th, no matter how much they improve in league play over the next 8 games, and they are fighting for the Europa League trophy. I believe it’s best for us to get behind the team, look forward to next season, and find those silver linings that we can build on going into the summer.
One of those silver linings this season has surprisingly been Shkodran Mustafi’s play. It may seem like a distant memory now, but it was only last year that the club were unbeaten in his first 22 appearances (16 wins, 6 draws). What’s surprised me the most about “controversial” players like Mustafi and Xhaka is that their critics are skilled football analysts when it comes to their errors, but when asked about the good sides to their game, it’s clear they don’t watch a lick of football. Arsenal does lead the league in total errors (28) and errors leading to goals (13), and Mustafi and Xhaka hold their fair share of blame. But only focusing on the bad parts of a players performances doesn’t do much good.
There’s a reason why Mustafi is the only Arsenal player on WhoScored’s Premier League Best XI so far for this season. He’s averaging 6.2 clearances, 2.7 tackles, 2.2 interceptions, and 4.7 aerial duels won per game. That’s good for 19th, 1st, 3rd, and 3rd respectively, among CBs with at least 20 appearances this season. It’s true that this is in part due to how often our defence is challenged during games. However, when a player can consistently perform in either a broken system or one that allows for tons of pressure, it’s a good indicator of overall ability. Why do you think teams are interested in snatching up players like Tarkowski, Mee, and Pope? They have been consistent performers in Burnley’s defensively-focused system.
With Mustafi only arriving last year, you can look at these past two seasons as one big audition for him. If he is putting up good numbers within the club’s worst season in years, what can he achieve during a good season? With a new manager, better defensive coaching, and more confidence, it’s clear that Mustafi can become one of the league’s top centre-backs.