How will a Mustafi-Koscielny defensive partnership improve Arsenal?
As Deadline Day closed in, Arsenal fans were growing tireless and agitated with their lack of activity and long-winded negotiations for players. So when the penultimate day of the window arrived, supporters could feel relieved and content that the Gunners were finally willing to spend some cash.
Shkodran Mustafi was brought in from Valencia for around £35 million, matching the fee for Granit Xhaka earlier this summer. Mustafi is a World Cup winner with Germany and, at 24, is already very experienced for his age, something Arsenal lacked on their opening day loss to Liverpool.
As new club captain Per Mertersacker and regular stand-by Gabriel were ruled out, extra cover was needed ahead of the new season. Yet, it was the rookie pair of Rob Holding and Calum Chambers that faced the Liverpool armoury come game one and they were taught a lesson, to say the least.
Reinforcements at the back were arguably needed before the injury crisis, but now Mustafi is in, he could well form one half of an effective new centre-back pairing with Laurent Koscielny. The Frenchman, 30, is undoubtedly Arsenal’s best defender and is one of the best in the Premier League. However, his partnership with Mertersacker has deteriorated over the last few seasons, from stable to inconsistent.
The German has become a target for the opposition to exploit with his lack of pace and agility, notably when he was sent off for a last man lunge on Diego Costa against Chelsea last season. Arsenal’s new man won’t be as exposed to those situations and has a pedigree of playing at the highest level. In addition, Mustafi is great friends with Mertersacker and Arsenal’s German superstar Mesut Ozil, so he should settle in quickly to life in North London.
Having a stable back-line will be pivotal in any success Arsenal have this season, particularly after last year’s disappointment of falling short to Leicester in the league. Last campaign, aside from aerial duels won- which the giant Mertesacker obviously has an advantage in – Mustafi’s stats are considerably better than the Gunner’s current partners for Koscielny. The new man’s 133 interceptions at Valencia, compared to Mertesacker’s 36, is an incredible difference.
Arsenal have a world class keeper in Petr Cech, one of the best playmakers in world football in Mesut Ozil and an attack which can all individually contribute with goals. The latest addition of Lucas Perez for £17 million from Deportivo will help lift the heavy load from Olivier Giroud’s shoulders, while supporters will hope Alexis Sanchez can rekindle his debut season feats.
This makes the latest tried centre back duo of Mustafi and Koscielny a promising rear-guard for what is looking like a very talented Gunners team. It will be tough to see Arsenal going close for the league title with the improvements and resources that the Manchester clubs and even Chelsea have this year, but, thanks to a much improved spine, Arsene Wenger’s side are in better shape.
Past Arsenal teams that have been successful have always had a resilient defence. Think of ‘The Famous Back Five’ and ‘The Invincibles’. David Seamen and Jens Lehmann were both commanding and dependable keepers, with Tony Adams and Sol Campbell calling the shots in front of them. The likes of Nigel Winterburn, Ashley Cole, Lee Dixon and Kolo Toure also featured in the most successful teams of Arsene Wenger’s era.
Now with the serial winner Cech between the posts, exciting youngster Hector Bellerin on the right, the trusted Nacho Monreal left and a new central duo, it could be the making of another impressive Arsenal defence.
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