Arsene Wenger has hailed Shkodran Mustafi’s leadership qualities and likened the defender to Per Mertesacker.
Mustafi headed the crucial opener in Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Tottenham on Saturday and produced an excellent defensive display to prevent Harry Kane adding to his north London derby tally.
A thigh injury in October kept Mustafi out for six weeks but Arsenal are yet to concede in the Premier League this season when he has partnered Laurent Koscielny in defence.
Wenger believes Mustafi brings greater organisation to his back line and compared the German to compatriot, and now 33-year-old Arsenal club-mate, Mertesacker.
“First of all, he’s similar to Per on a mental front, but of course he’s 10 years younger, and he’s a leader, he’s a motivator,” Wenger said.
“He has a strong focus, and he’s strong in the challenge. He had an outstanding performance against Tottenham. In the air he was good. He started a bit nervy and slowly became stronger and stronger.”
After joining Arsenal from Valencia last year, Mustafi endured an inconsistent first season in England and he was linked with a move to Inter Milan last summer.
Wenger, however, insisted the 25-year-old was “not close” to leaving the Gunners and Mustafi also laughed off the suggestion.
“You like to say this s***,” said a smiling Mustafi.
“Obviously, because you’re asking me about it, it’s your job, as are the people from outside, talking and thinking that they know everything. In the end, what happens in the changing room is the real thing.
“I don’t understand why people are just talking about things. How can they know? How can they know if I have or haven’t been talking to clubs? It’s just rumours.”
Asked if he could confirm he was not close to leaving, Mustafi said: “But I’m here. I’m standing right in front of you in an Arsenal shirt.”
Alexis Sanchez was also on target at the Emirates Stadium as Arsenal moved to within one point of Tottenham in the table.
Wenger’s men had been branded a fading force in their rivalry with Spurs but they silenced the doubters, at least for now, with a ruthless display.
“It’s always ‘Arsenal is this, Arsenal is that, Arsenal is not coming back’. It’s always the same,” Mustafi said.
“I think it’s about what the team is feeling and the team is thinking. We keep saying it but we’re always alive, we always believe in ourselves, we always give everything on the pitch.
“Then obviously when it comes to games like that you have to show character – we did it. I think you have to give the team credit.”
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