Arsenal: Wenger praises defender; Walcott on new mentality; No contract for Spaniard
Arsene Wenger has extolled the influence of summer signing Shkodran Mustafi, as Arsenal seek to keep their third clean sheet of the week against Burnley this afternoon. The Arsenal boss spent £35 million on the German defender late in the window, which is vastly more than he has spent on defenders previously.
Mustafi has formed a promising partnership with the exemplary Laurent Koscielny, and the pair are both front-footed, mobile and aggressive centre halves. Koscielny has struggled to form an understanding with defenders who are similar to himself, such as Thomas Vermaelen and Gabriel Paulista.
However, he seems to have clicked with Mustafi and their combined pace has enabled Arsenal to play a higher line and a more intense pressing game. Wenger said:
“Koscielny is the leader because he is captain but Mustafi looks like he is taking leadership as well at the back.
“Mustafi is a player who is highly focused. On that front he is a typical German. He wants to do the job well every day and he speaks his mind.
“He is vocal in the dressing room. He is not a quiet guy who hides. He speaks out with his opinion and communicates a lot.”
For much of last season it was difficult to decipher exactly what type of side Arsenal were trying to be. They had a strong squad with plenty of individual class and quality, but Wenger struggled to stitch it all together into a coherent collective. The journalist and tactics connoisseur Jonathan Wilson has described them as a ‘pantomime horse’ in the past, with the front and back signing off different hymn sheets. In recent weeks, there has been a real identity to Arsenal’s play and it seems that Wenger’s outlook has greater clarity. His philosophy has always been based on quick movement, sharp passing combinations and positional rotation. Combine this with a well-co-ordinated pressing game, something Wenger has struggled to organise in the pass, and you should be onto a winner.
Elsewhere, Theo Walcott has been speaking about Arsenal’s mentality. The England international has been a man reborn this season, scoring four in his last three starts and upping his defensive output dramatically. Walcott said:
“We are more and more experienced in the Premier League and the intensity starts from the front.
“We act when the opposition gets the ball and we do it as a unit. We are all clicking at the same time and it bodes well. We are working hard in training as well and it is nice to see it paying off.”
Football is a curious business, and the reasons why teams suddenly ‘click’ can be a mystery on the outside. Arsenal should have approached every game of last season with the same intensity, but it is also a question of balance and personnel. The Gunners have finally found a balanced front three with a mix of pace and guile in Walcott, Alexis Sanchez and Alex Iwobi.
Finally, Santi Cazorla has confirmed that he is yet to receive a contract offer from Arsenal. The Spaniard is out of contract next summer and will turn 32 in December. It is usually Wenger’s policy to only give players over the age of 30 a one-year deal, but Cazorla continues to be a hugely influential figure in his team. With the recent additions of Mohammed Elneny and Granit Xhaka, as well as the form of Aaron Ramsey at the European Championship, many thought Cazorla might have to accept a reduced role. His dexterity and close control means he is a unique option however, and somebody Wenger still turns to.
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