Arsenal are currently enjoying one of their very best starts to a Premier League campaign, with their current run of form due in part to the shrewd summer signings made by veteran Gunners’ boss Arsène Wenger.
While the midfield and forward departments have been generating and converting goals with ease, it is in defence, where Wenger’s problems were most evident during the summer, that has been the outstanding unit so far this term.
The preseason injuries to Per Mertesacker and Gabriel threw Arsenal fans into fits of despair. As their Premier League rivals were all spending big and strengthening their squads, it seemed the London club was weakening, with Wenger in no mood to spend any money.
Then, in a brilliant sprint for the finish, the veteran manager signed forward Lucas Perez and defender Shkodran Mustafi in the dying days of the transfer window. Joining Granit Xhaka, that other big name signing from the opening days of the window, Rob Holding and Takuma Asano, Wenger finished the summer having spent some £90 million.
Seven games into the new league season and it appears that the Arsenal boss has hit the jackpot. With Asano away on loan and England U21 defender Holding developing as part of the wider first team squad, it has been Mustafi, Lucas and Xhaka who have been the headline catchers. Of these three, Mustafi is head and shoulders about the rest.
The 24-year-old has settled into his role in the centre of defence with a level of confidence that suggests he is a seasoned Premier League veteran. Such have been his performances for the Gunners that his blossoming partnership with Frenchman Laurent Koscielny looks set to relegate Gabriel to the bench.
Furthermore, news has emerged that fellow centre-back, the injured club captain, Per Mertesacker, is set to seek other opportunities come January as it looks like he will be joining Gabriel on the bench upon his return in the new year.
According to team-mates and reported by the Daily Star, Mustafi is fast becoming a leader both in the dressing room and on the pitch, always willing to speak up, always willing to commit to the cause.
With his physical and vocal presence, in addition to the phenomenal performance statistics Mustafi has maintained to date, he is already regarded as a fan favourite and, arguably, Arsenal’s most important player of the Gunners’ back line.
Now, with Mertesacker likely to be leaving the Emirates at the end of his contract in May, plus with Hector Bellerin the focus of much transfer speculation, Mustafi is an indispensible member of Wenger’s squad.
For a club that gave us legendary defenders like Sol Campbell, Ashley Cole and David O’Leary, Shkodran Mustafi has a lot to live up to. Based upon what we have seen so far this season however, it looks like there will be a new name added to that list before very long.
Gary Brennan, Pundit Arena
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