The date is 18th July 2020 and Arsenal are currently cruising through their FA Cup semi-final with Manchester City.
It’s a rare match, not just because the Gunners swept aside the Citizens 2-0, but also because of a very particular player.
Among the backline that day was a certain Shkodran Mustafi. The German has been vilified, terrorised and relentlessly blamed for Arsenal’s defensive problems in recent years.
However, on this occasion, he was absolutely impeccable. For many reasons, this stood out as his best performance in the red and white of Arsenal.
He played alongside David Luiz who coincidentally, also displayed a pillar of solidity.
Over the course of the 90 minutes, Mustafi was dribbled past on just a solitary occasion and committed only one foul. On top of that, the German defender completed three tackles, won two aerial duels and made eight clearances.
Defensively, this was as solid as it comes and in a big game too, it meant a lot to his manager, the club and its supporters.
During this match, Mustafi looked like a changed man. A player deemed uncoachable by Gary Neville now looked hard to beat.
Though, even if the centre-back has improved under Mikel Arteta, he is still an accident waiting to happen, something that was evident towards the end of October.
The 28-year-old has been out injured since that match against Man City, but in his first game back, the old habits returned.
Now, you can excuse a bit of rustiness from Mustafi because he hasn’t played for three months, but when you’re as error-prone as he is, it’s hard to escape the attention.
The Gunners had managed Leicester well during their 1-0 defeat last Sunday but when Mustafi entered the fray for the injured Luiz, things went pear-shaped. Combine the German with Jamie Vardy and you have a recipe for disaster as far as Arsenal are concerned.
The Foxes forward has netted eight times in his last nine outings against the Gunners and scored again last weekend, primarily because Mustafi wasn’t doing his job.
Gabriel told him to mark the space but Arsenal’s number 20 was slow to react and Vardy was left with a simple finish. Last term, it looked as though more patience had been applied to Mustafi but this was yet more evidence that he needs to be sold.
That, however, looks unlikely. Although his contract expires next season the London club have offered him new terms. Fortunately for supporters, he has rejected the offer on the table for the time being.
That’s good news, especially when you consider how much he’s cost Arsenal over the last four years.
That means that the former Everton defender is earning £4.68m a year, leading to an accumulative salary of £18.72m since walking through the door in 2016.
Add that to his transfer fee and Arsenal have ended up shelling out £53.72m on Mustafi. That number is ridiculous for someone who has been nothing but average.
Mustafi has featured in 164 matches since joining and in the process, 43 clean sheets have been kept with him in the team. Resultantly, he has cost the Islington club £1.24m per shut out.
That isn’t great, but when you bring in the number of individual errors things even hairier. In 2018/19 alone, he made six mistakes that led to a goal for the opposition. That is the very definition of terrible.
Last season, though, the central defender didn’t make an individual error in the Premier League from his 15 outings. That shows the elevation he achieved under Arteta.
The Spaniard ensured everyone had a clean slate when he became head coach and that even applied to Mustafi, a man who had been cast to the shadows by Unai Emery.
Perhaps the ex-Valencia man still has something to give? Quite possibly.
With Luiz, Pablo Mari and Rob Holding injured and Sokratis left out of the European and domestic squad lists, Mustafi now has the chance to show why Arteta’s faith last season was justified.
That being said, it would be wrong to say he deserves a new contract. With cost-cutting measures now in place, getting rid of the Germany international is a quick way to reduce the financial strain on Arsenal.
Second chances are rare, and in Mustafi’s case, his opportunity has come about due to circumstance rather than his own individual qualities.
He’s incredibly lucky to still be in the squad.
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