Making heads and tails of the Shkodran Mustafi situation is no easy task.
The word “baffling” has often been used to describe some of Arsenal’s decisions in recent years, and I can’t think of a better word to describe what’s going with Shkodran Mustafi.
The German could be on the verge of leaving the club for reasons nobody really knows. Added to that, there have been reports that Arsenal might not even replace him, again for reasons nobody really knows.
However, there has to be some logic to all this, no matter how contrived.
So, why would Arsenal let Mustafi go only after a year at the club?
The defender had a mixed season, starting off well but revealing a lot of flaws in his game as the season progressed. An inability to stay on his feet was by far the biggest and most eye catching problem. Mustafi’s method of defending was to dive in on players running with the ball, either missing completely or taking out the player on the edge of the penalty area.
Yet while that’s a problem, it’s not an unfixable one, and surely not enough to prompt a sale. The problem is likely else where, possibly off the pitch.
Reports have cited a failure to bond with his team mates as the reason behind Arsenal’s willingness to sell him. Not knowing what goes on behind the scenes, it’s difficult to say one way or another if Mustafi is liked by his team mates. It’s possible that something has gone on behind the scenes – in which case, why wait until now to sort that out?
Another, much harder theory to prove is Mustafi’s relation with the analytics company, StatDNA.
Arsenal used StatDNA to inform their transfer activity and a sample of the names it’s helped us sign is quite revealing. Gabriel, Elneny, Xhaka, Lucas and, indeed, Mustafi were signed based on information from StatDNA.
Gabriel has already been sold, Lucas will be sold, Elneny was almost sold and Mustafi could be on the verge of being sold. It could be a case of Wenger not trusting the stats and not rating the players that much to begin with.
However, none of this explains Arsenal’s decision to not replace him.
Whatever the reason for the sale, Mustafi is a first team regular and his departure would leave a hole in Arsenal’s squad. It either implies that Arsenal do, in fact, have a replacement lined up but can’t sign right away (Virgil van Dijk, for example) or that Wenger feels he has enough in the squad to compensate.
Arsenal would still have Koscielny, Mertesacker, Holding and Chambers, along with the option of Monreal and Kolasinac. It’s possible that Wenger, who might not rate Mustafi that highly to begin with, doesn’t believe he’d be any worse off.
Trying to convince the fans of that is another matter.
Arsenal having good options at the back simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
If Mustafi isn’t good enough, then it’d make sense to replace him with someone better. If we can’t replace him with someone better, we shouldn’t sell at all.
Wenger, though, has precedent for not replacing players straight away.
He often talks about finding the right player with the right attributes, and if he can’t find that player, he’d rather not sign anyone at all. If he signs a player he wasn’t completely convinced by, that player doesn’t last long at the club.
Selling Mustafi and then not replacing him would, at least, be consistent with that logic, even if it’s difficult to wrap your head around.