Suffice to say I am still buzzing after Saturday’s magnificent win over the noisy neighbours from Middlesex. It was quite easily the team’s most comprehensive performance of the campaign to date and after that 90 minutes it would be hard not to point to the return of a certain German defender as being pivotal.
It is the club and Wenger’s task in the modern era to build a squad capable of challenging for the top honours and in this it would be hard to argue they have succeeded. However this was the first occasion this season when Wenger has been able (I think) to put out what most would argue was his first choice eleven. After messing around with the wingback roles to appease Chamberlain in August, he has had to deal with numerous injuries, as is customary at Arsenal, but Saturday saw all the star signings of the past 2 summer windows on the pitch, along with Alexis and Ozil.
We honestly do not know what is occurring with Alexis and Ozil and in recent weeks I have almost lost interest but the victory over Spurs reminded us all what both offer this team. Difficult to believe that the same two players who were poor and in Alexis’s case worse than poor versus Man City could perform at such a different level against another ‘rival’. However, no matter how good the contract rebels were it was Shkodran Mustafi whose return to the centre of the back three was the difference to this team.
I am sure many fans have debated about whether Wenger should continue with a back three, unconvinced it has truly made us defensively stronger. Cynics might have even suggested he was persevering with it purely to avoid Xhaka’s lack of pace being exposed. Saturday’s win and performance however may have shown us all what is possible when Mustafi is at the centre of the three with Koscileny and Monreal either side of him. Despite Holding’s undoubted talent when he played it meant Koscienly was utilised centrally, and as good as the Frenchman is he is not dominant and vocal enough to play the role. When Mertesacker returned it was better with Koscielny back on the right but the Club Captain is simply not able to play the role in the way his peer can.
Mustafi seems to clearly understand the role in the centre, knows when to attack the ball and when to sit to allow his colleagues to step forward. Last season when he was on the right if a two it now seems we did not see the best of him. Too often he brought the ball out of defence himself and was left stranded up field or made rash challenges that were not required. I recall being at St Mary’s in the spring when he came back to the centre of the three and we instantly looked a better defensive unit and Saturday was the same. He is clearly the best communicator and that is something we have clearly lacked. Koscielny is a world class player but he is not a talker and this system works best with a talker at the centre.
The won over Spurs aw the best if Arsenal attacking in the first half but we all know when we get it right we can do that. What was more satisfying in a way was the discipline, organisation and shear bloody resilience of our defending, when they came back at us in the second half as we knew they would. How often has a 2 goal start not been enough for Arsenal to see out a game in recent years? The answer is far too often but with this back three staying fit and with Mustafi at the core better defensive times could be ahead.
We have no idea what truly happened in the summer, when it seemed he was on his way to Italy on loan. There were stories that he did not get on well with his team mates and that his wife was homesick but we must all hope that is behind him. He seemed very content in his post-match interview and in my humble opinion we all need to hope the German stays fit and healthy for the remainder of the campaign if we are to compete for honours.
Laurent Koscielny has long been our defensive lynch-pin and Monreal has made the left central role his own but we need Mustafi in between them. Chelsea had the same back three for virtually all the 2016/17 season once they switched formation after their heavy defeat at the Emirates. Their subsequent success was not a coincidence and the man who lost out was their long-time stalwart, John Terry. I am sorry Mertesacker you must suffer the same fate as Terry for Arsenal to flourish in 2017/18.