I’ve been as rueful towards Shkodran Mustafi as any other fan.
Yes, he won the World Cup with Germany. Current and past players of Arsenal were in the same side, such as Mertesacker, Ozil, and Podolski.
However, he’s made numerous errors in his Arsenal tenure. And in crucial games to boot – Kun Aguero in the League Cup Final, fouling Kane at Wembley vs. Spurs, and letting Zaha score for Palace at the Emirates. At Wembley, he cost us the opening goal vs. City. He allowed Spurs to equalise in a game we were dominating. And he let Zaha score Palace’s second in a 3-2 defeat that ultimately cost us top four.
Granted, all players make mistakes. The great Lionel Messi got sent off for Argentina vs. Chile in the Copa America. And there must a Youtube reel out there of the sitters he’s missed. But he’s still a contender for the GOAT – which nobody in their right/normal mind would question.
Messi’s mistakes though are the exception – or can be greatly masked by his brilliance overall. Even Arsenal greats, nay legends, have made bad errors. Dixon scored an own goal from near the touchline – but he’s still our best ever right-back (or amongst the best at the very least). Bergkamp missed a last-minute penalty vs. Man United, and had he scored, there would have been no Fergie Treble and a possible reunion and successive FA Cup final defeat of the Toon.
But Dennis is a prime Arsenal legend – who would question that?
It’s because his errors or gaffes were the exceptions – or as per Messi can be masked by great moments.
For Mustafi, mishaps are regularity. He does play well on occasion, but these are few and far between.
I want him to leave – as do many others I’d bet. But then there is the possibility he may stay.
He has said that he has no intention of leaving. And reports that Emery wanted him to go post-Baku are moot at best. Emery himself hasn’t said this. I know Ornstein, as a BBC journalist, is not prone to exaggeration. But then statements like these shouldn’t be taken on face value.
So in this sense, if Mustafi does stay, what then? What should our response be?
From Mustafi’s angle, it should be redemption.
His footballing play is silly – though I doubt the man himself is stupid.
He must know that Arsenal fans don’t value him – or think he should go. He must read or note social media. And most responses to his posts aren’t that kind, in truth.
So if he does stay past the transfer deadline, he has to knuckle down and get on top.
He needs, maybe, to seek out additional help from within and outside the club. Maybe ask some of his German national side buddies for tips, or even German greats like Matthaus. Or Sammer, who was a mainstay in 1996 Euro winning side.
He needs to step it up – and he should see staying as an opportunity to better himself.
Koscielny was in some way similar. His first season at the club wasn’t stellar – he got sent off several times. And of course, the mistake in the League Cup final vs. Birmingham was a low.
But in the subsequent season, his game improved. And from then on, once Mertesacker acclimatised to English football, both he and Per edged out Vermaelan and became our defensive pair for a few seasons afterwards. Kos the Boss wouldn’t be called such if he didn’t sort himself out. Many bemoan our players for lacking the bottle, but Kos did recover well from his initial weak play.
Mustafi COULD be another example. Though it’s been a few seasons of weak play, and not just one season as with Kos. Mertesacker too was struggling in his first season (11/12), but improved rapidly in 12/13. His headed equaliser vs. Spurs was arguably his true “arrival” moment.
The feelings of fans are clear – he has to go.
Though should he stay, we should support him.
But we and he know the relationship is terse.
But adding extra acrimony won’t help things.
And it won’t necessarily help him improve.
He may not even be motivated to improve. He already has earned enough money. He’s won the World Cup – even if he wasn’t a main player in “die Mannschaft” he still has that accolade which Ronaldo and Messi of all players don’t. And in a more personal sense, he is married to a beautiful woman who is a model, lives in one of the best cities on Earth, and plays for one of the world’s biggest clubs.
So in many senses, he has it made. Some extra grief from us towards him may not affect him that much.
And like most footballers, he may not come from a privileged background. Certainly, his family is Albanian, and that region of Europe has had noted difficulties in recent decades. Both he and Granit Xhaka have strong similarities in this regard, since both are of Albanian extraction, despite living in and playing for Switzerland and Germany respectively. Achieving what he has in football – maybe – is some gratification for his Albanian heritage, who knows? Both he and Xhaka have spoken about it in various guises, and how their families have found a new peace bar their past traumas in Albania.
However, whilst Mustafi in my view is not at the level to compete or make us better, he doesn’t deserve barracking or harassment.
We’ve had “bad” players before – and we’ll have them again.
For every Overmars, Brady, Vieira or O’Leary, there has been a Helder, McGoldrick, Jensen, and Stepanovs.
But once players are at the Arsenal, we should give them the courtesy and time of day.
And who really doesn’t want any player to improve whilst he’s here?
So IF Mustafi stays, let’s see if he can lessen the gaffes.
Though for me this would be a key part of his redemption:
- Stopping Salah, Firmino or Mane getting a winner for Liverpool at Anfield
- Scoring the winner vs. Spurs at home
We do play Newcastle and Burnley of course in our opening games too. But the Liverpool and Scum games are more crucial in some respects, and some strong performances would be an initial step in regaining favour.
It’s a hard task, but not an impossible one.
And Mustafi needs an example from yesteryear, such a player is Martin Keown. When he rejoined the club in 1993, he didn’t really figure much and didn’t perform as well as he could have. Though he gained a midfield role in Bruce Rioch’s season in charge and performed well as a destroyer of sorts. And once Arsene Wenger came, he reverted to his more known centre-back role, and the rest is history. Keown is now known as an Arsenal legend, and it took him several years to perform to a consistently high level.
Is Mustafi could be the next Keown, who wouldn’t welcome that?
It’s up to him though to get there. And we’ll see, should he stay, if he can.