Has Mustafi solved Arsenal’s defensive problems?


Arsenal have not conceded a clean sheet for 10 games. You have to go back to the League Cup home win against Reading on the 25th of October for our last one. Arsenal clearly have problems at the back.

Much of our defensive “problems” were supposed to have been sorted by the signing of Shkodran Mustafi for big money from Valencia. And whilst he has been a terrific signing, and he is yet to lose a game in an Arsenal shirt, he has certainly not solved Arsenal’s defensive problems:

In the last two years, or lack of success has been firmly blamed on our defence, and on one defender in particular, Per Mertesacker. But this ignores the facts.

In 205/16 Petr Cech kept more clean sheets than any other goal keeper, Arsenal conceded as many goals as Leicester, and just 1 more than the leagues two stingiest defences, Man U and Spurs.

The year before was not too much different. Arsenal were once again 3rd in the league when it came to ‘goals conceded’ Only Southampton and Champions Chelsea conceding less.

So what has happened at Arsenal? If Mustafi has so obviously (to many fans eyes) improved out defence, why has it seemingly gone backwards?

The first problem is our eyes often deceive us.

Per Mertesacker was often labelled a weak link as when he was beaten, our made an error, he would rarely be in the picture when a goal was scored. Where as when Mustafi and Laurent Koscielny make errors, it is not as obvious.

This year Arsenal have given their opponents a lot of chances. And a lot of these come from Mustafi and Koscielny’s lack of positional awareness.

Neither are as good positionally as Mertesacker, nor are they as good at organising the defence. What this leads to is a massive gap between the two defenders, leaving a lot of space for strikers to slip in between and get a chance. From Cavani in the Champions League, to lowly Ludogorets, our defence gives opponents very clear chances.

Even when we beat Ludogorets 6-0, the chicken farmers still had 10 shots and it was only poor finishing that stopped them scoring.

The weakness with Per Mertesacker was when a ball went in behind Hector Bellerin, Mertesacker would not have the pace to get across him. So Koscielny at left sided centre back would have to undercut the big German to get across to the opponent. This would then leave Mertesacker labouring to get back in the middle to cover whoever had run through from the away team. Koscielny wouldn’t get to the right quick enough, Mertesacker would be nowhere near anyone, Nacho Monreal would fail to drop inside to cover, and our opponents would be left with a simple tap in if the squared ball was right.

Signing Mustafi has meant that Koscielny no longer needs to undercut, but it has created another problem.

When Bellerin gets caught out going forward, Mustafi drifts across to the right a bit to cover his full back, which is what a centre back should do. But then everyone else should follow. Koscielny should tuck in to cover Mustafi, either the defensive midfielder or Monreal tucks in to cover Koscielny, and the winger or defensive midfielder slots in to cover Monreal. But this is not happening.

Mustafi go’s right, and Koscielny is not covering his centre back partner, leaving a big gap between the two centre backs that a striker is exploiting.

A major reason why Koscielny is not covering is he is so concerned about Monreal. He is trying to cover his right back when he should be covering his centre back. It does not help when Alex Iwobi is also not covering his full back, so Monreal can not fully commit to covering the middle.

I do think Mustafi and Koscielny could develop into a decent defensive partnership, but it is clear that at the moment Arsenal’s defence is not keeping enough clean sheets.

Koscielny’s positioning has always been his weakness. I have got a lot of abuse for saying this before. But this probably highlights who knows football and who doesn’t. Koscielny has been caught out a lot inf the past. Too high up the field, too far left, diving in when a player is not a danger.

There is a reason why Koscielny has conceded more penalties than any other Premier League player since 2010. Because he is always out of position and having to lunge in to win the ball.

Koscielny has always performed better when he has a leader next to him. Someone who can organise him, direct him. Mustafi looks a classy player, better than Mertesacker, but at the moment the defence is struggling with positional organisation. I am a big believer of the effect games such as FIFA has on people. Many did not rate Mertesacker purely because they could not defend with him on computer games.

Good defences always work on partnerships. You have a leader. Tony Adams, John Terry, Laurent Blanc, Nemanja Vidic. Arsenal currently do not have this out and out defensive leader. Manchester City have spent £150m trying to find one.

Mustafi could grow into the leader of the defence over the next 6 months, but at the moment he is the junior partner to Koscielny.

Arsenal defensive frailties have become worse this season. Mustafi has solved one problem but created another.


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