While Laurent Koscielny and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain took most of the plaudits in the wake of Arsenal’s late win at Burnley, a closer look at the numbers revealed a hidden hero among the Gunners’ ranks.
In a game that will largely be remembered for Arsenal’s efforts in attack, spare a thought for the excellent defensive work of Shkodran Mustafi, who is fast becoming an immovable object at the heart of the back line.
The German was thrust into the first team pretty quickly after his arrival from Spain but has scarcely put a foot wrong since then, least of all against Burnley, where his contribution made for impressive reading.
The 24-year-old led the team with five tackles and 13 successful clearances. He was second only to Santi Cazorla (118) in touches of the ball, registering 108, and he led the team in duels won, with 57.9 per cent proving successful.
He won 50 per cent of his aerial duels and also made an interception to boot.
Through the course of the match he made 83 passes, some 82 per cent of which were successful. Only Cazorla (105) attempted more passes than the German. By comparison, Mesut Ozil attempted 81 passes and Granit Xhaka attempted 75.
It was an absolutely standout performance and one which, quite frankly, went under the radar. We weren’t under a tremendous amount of pressure from Burnley but perhaps that owes something to the work of Mustafi and his defensive colleagues.
A lot of the things he does are simple but he goes about them in a neat and tidy fashion and in such a way that inspires confidence.
In that sense, he reminds me somewhat of Gilberto Silva – better known as the Silent Wall – a player of immense quality and humility – and a crucial element of successful Arsenal sides in the 2000s.
There is still a lot of partnership-building to do between Mustafi and Koscielny but the most satisfying part about the situation is that the Frenchman doesn’t seem to have to worry about babysitting his colleague. He has a footballing instinct that is difficult to teach.
When Gabriel or Callum Chambers play, you get the feeling that they have to be marshalled to an extent, with a careful eye kept on where they are on the pitch. In time, both will certainly improve as players but a big bonus about the acquisition of Mustafi is that he has been able to slot straight into the team.
He has settled unbelievably well so far and has his head screwed on. His positioning has been sound and he has been aggressive and positive in his work.
It took a long time to tie up the transfer deal but it is becoming clearer every week just why it took such a lot of cash to prize him away from Spain.
If we can keep ‘Kostafi’ fit and firing, it will make as a very difficult team to beat and success in the Premier League these days is as much built on defence as it is in attack.