The Redemption of Shkodran Mustafi: A new contract merited or an opportunity to sell?
By Alfie Cairns Culshaw (Chief Editor)
In 12 months’ time, Shkodran Mustafi’s 5-year contract at Arsenal will come to an end. His four-year spell thus far has, in the grand scheme of things, been disastrous.
Arriving for £35 million from Valencia in August 2016, a lot was expected from him. After an initial run of form which saw him strike an encouraging partnership with Laurent Koscielny and a 19-match unbeaten run, Mustafi steadily lost the support of Arsenal fans after producing a number of high profile errors and underwhelming performances. This poor form culminated in him being dubbed ‘the worst defender in Europe’ by a certain outlet, and whilst this was certainly an exaggeration and a tad harsh, it did reflect just how far his stock had fallen as a footballer.
After a particularly infuriating mistake at the arms of Wilfried Zaha in April of last year, many Arsenal fans declared that the defining moment that should’ve marked the end of his time at the club. Such was the damaged perception of the German, Arsenal failed to move him on in the following window, despite allegedly offering him to clubs for minimal fees and directly notifying him and his representatives he was surplus to requirements. He subsequently stayed at the club, and was left somewhat in the cold for the first half of the season.
In comes Mikel Arteta. Our new head coach stressed that a clean slate for everyone would be created upon his arrival at the club. Anyone who lived up to his ‘non-negotiables’ would be putting themselves in with chance of featuring under the Spaniard. Since the change in manager, Mustafi’s attitude and willingness to adapt to and embrace Arteta’s principles has been exemplary, and he’s thus found himself back in the team. Yes, the injury to Calum Chambers, the continuing fitness problems for Rob Holding and the gradual freezing out of Sokratis have contributed, but the role Mustafi has played himself in regaining a place in the thick of it cannot be understated.
And he hasn’t let Arteta down on the pitch. Aside from his momentary and costly lapse in concentration at Stamford Bridge in January, the World Cup winner has been solid. Not overly spectacular, but dependable- not something you could say of him throughout the entirety of his Arsenal career prior to the last 6 months. His ability to dominate aerially, distribute the ball effectively and reduced recklessness in his instinctive slide tackling have seen him improve as a player. One high profile error in this period is an improvement on how frequently he made them in the past.
The lingering feeling that he could make an unexplainable, completely avoidable and unenforced error at any time is slowly being eroded. His confidence seems sky high. His relationship with the fans is better than it ever has been. They recognise his improvement and the novelty around it makes him, in a weird way, a fans favourite. The redemption is remarkable.
Six or seven months ago, when we got to this point in his contract, there’d have been no debate over his future. Move him on at any cost, even if it means making a substantial loss, and losing him below market value. Now, there is a genuine discussion to be had amongst the Arsenal hierarchy. What was once a no brainer, is now a head scratcher- and there’s reasonable arguments to be made both ways.
On the one hand, keeping him makes sense economically. In a financially obliterated world following a pandemic, Arsenal’s pockets may not be deep enough to go out and spend £50 million on a top centre-half, particularly when you have one performing well in there who the manager is fond of. Offering him a new deal would reduce the cost of having to find an upgraded replacement. Having a Champions League winner (David Luiz) and a World Cup winner to guide the incoming William Saliba doesn’t sound bad on paper. Arteta clearly rates Mustafi highly, admiring his ability on the ball and his work ethic and commitment to the cause. The Arsenal hierarchy may see all of this, and deem it an act of financial recklessness to rid themselves of this player and invest in another.
On the other hand, there is this general feeling around the club that a major rebuild is needed, and offering a new deal to someone who has been a key component in our recent failings would not signify a move in the direction of this reconstruction of the playing staff. Does three and a half years of dreadfulness not outweigh six months of rejuvenation? Are his high profile errors truly behind him? His age would suggest this bad habit can’t really be coached out of him, and we are just awaiting his next mistake.
The hierarchy may also look at this recent form as an opportunity to sell. Whilst he may have not been a valuable asset to any extent last summer, a run of good games can reignite this value. At 28, he’s a good age for a centre-back, has plenty of experience at the highest level for club and internationally, and possesses the passing ability and aggression to operate well in the modern game and in many modern tactical systems. He is a relatively attractive proposition once again and he would demand a decent fee, even in a covid-hit financial climate. Are we really going to commit another three years to a player who has let us down so frequently in the past, when we can sell him for good money now? This will be the last opportunity to receive any notable fee for him, so it could be considered ludicrous not to take it.
Essentially, a lot of it comes down to the manager, and how important he deems Mustafi to his long-term ambitions. Arteta is clearly here for the foreseeable future, so accommodating his wishes for the squad ahead of the ideal financial concerns is advisable. If you’re looking at it from the outside, it would appear he’d be in favour of extending the German’s contract. However, he may just view Mustafi as the best of what he currently has at his disposal and has replacements eyed up already. We’ll have to wait and see.
My personal opinion is that we should move him on this summer whilst we can, but I have no inside information on the player, I’m not aware of the financial ongoings and how Arteta views him. I’m just an outside idiot looking in and writing on it. Whatever happens, it’s fair to say Mustafi has done a remarkable job at somehow, against all odds, prolonging his spell at the club for much longer than most would’ve anticipated.