Mustafi, the defenders or our defending: what is to blame?
Our most used back four during the 20017/18 season consisted of Bellerin (RB), Mustafi (CB), Koscielny (CB) and Monreal (LB). I doubt that these four players on their own could have been as poor as our season’s defensive stats show.
Juventus and Barcelona keep casting glances in the direction of Bellerin (so the rumours say). Mustafi is a German international, though he missed out on their World Cup squad (thanks, no doubt, to being at the back line of a team that was conceding silly goals all season long). Koscielny is a French international, out of the World Cup only due to injury. Monreal is runner up to the team’s Player of the Season Award. They just couldn’t have been trash.
We leaked 51 goals this 17/18 season. That’s classic mid table quota. Naturally, opinions lashed out and quickly settled blaming our defenders instead of our defending. That’s understandable as defending is a more elusive target to attack. Yet modern football tells us that whenever possession is lost defending begins irrespective of the location of the ball and all eleven men on the field become potentially defenders. The blame should therefore be on the team, on the defending, directed at either all the players or the tactics or both.
And poor Mustafi! Opinions have selected him as the sacrificial lamb and his blood is being shed daily for the sins of the team. After all, he made two errors that led to goals.
Let us look at Mustafi, not with our jaundiced eyes, but through the eyes of the Squawka Player Performance Score which is … “an advanced algorithm that takes every recorded on-ball action on the football pitch, evaluates its outcome, pitch co-ordinates, playing position of the player ………… and allocates it a score” The performance score simply adds all these scores together. The eyes of Squawka are not infallible but the prejudice of the past does not blur its vision (it’s a robot) so what it says overall might be more factual
The Squawka PPS says that Mustafi is the 10th best defender in the Premiership per 90 minutes played in the 17/18 season amongst those who played up to 10 games. See the list below.
1st, John Stones (Manc)
2nd, Nicolas Otamendi (Manc)
3rd, Danilo (Manc)
4th, Jan Vertonghen (Tot)
5th, Vincent Company (Manc)
6th, Chris Smalling (Manu)
7th, Virgil Van Dijk (Liv)
8th, Phil Jones (Manu)
9th, Nacho Monreal (Arse)
10th, Shkodran Mustafi (Arse)***
By comparison Koshienly is at 15th, Kolasinac at 67th, Holding 69th, Bellerin 75th, and Chambers is at 94th. It might also interest those who want us to make these premiership signings that Tony Alderweireld (Tot) is at 61st and Jonny Evans (WBA) at 65th.
The impulse of many would be to chunk the Squawka PPS overboard because they have never been schooled to doubt themselves occasionally. That’s fine. Let’s see what the reputable WhoScored has in store. This time we will skip ratings and go to the more objective facts of defensive stats.
BY WHOSCORED (for Arsenal players who have played up to 8 matches) :-
Top tackles/game:- Mustafi (2.4), Xhaka (2.1), Monreal (1.9), Kolasinac (1.8).
Top interceptions/game:- Koscielny (2.2), Mustafi (2.1), Monreal (2), Holding (1.8)
Top clearances/game:- Mustafi (6.3), Koscielny (5.4), Chambers (3.7), Holding (3.3).
Top blocks/game:- Chambers (0.9), Holding (0.7), Koscielny (0.6), Mustafi (0.6)
When any player, even if he is a defender defender, has the ball, technically speaking he is attacking (that’s the modern concept), and WhoScored further says that Mustafi achieved 86.2% pass success rate, scored 3 goals and made 1 assist (and the last fact I am reluctant to bring out is that WhoScored also put Mustafi as Arsenal’s highest rated player, and the 13th in the league!). It’s snake and ladders and back to square one.
For those who know how to wrestle with their certainties, it’s time to take eyes off Mustafi and focus on our main defensive undoing, our tactics; a tactics that left our defenders, particularly the central defenders, vulnerable. The good news is that steps are being taken to rectify this. The old guard is gone. We hope the new guard would be up to the task of fixing the tactics. Not that I would complain if the club decides to pay Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly £105m release clause.