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Can Shkodran Mustafi be the answer to Arsenal’s defensive woes?
Premier League giants Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea have all opened their wallets this summer in the hopes of rejuvenating their respective squads. Their dabbles in the transfer market have boosted total league spending this summer to astronomical heights and the £1 billion benchmark is expected to be broken by next week’s deadline day, shattering the previous record.
By contrast, Arsene Wenger has never bothered getting caught up in the arms race, which has frustrated Arsenal fans as always, but the manager remains steadfast in maintaining a policy that also likely contributed to his long-term stability.
All of which makes the speculation of multiple big-money signings at the Emirates with just days left to go in the transfer market even more intriguing. Wenger made no secret of the fact that the Gunners are ready to spend roughly £52m on Deportivo la Coruña striker Lucas Pérez and Valencia defender Shkodran Mustafi in a press conference on Friday, much later in the transfer window than Wenger typically hopes to conduct his business.
Wenger denied either of the deals being panic buys, but perhaps a 4-3 defeat to Liverpool on the opening day of the season accelerated their need for immediate relief at the back. With defenders Gabriel Paulista, Per Mertesacker and Carl Jenkinson all out injured and Calum Chambers struggling to find form, Wenger is relying on twenty-year-old Premier League rookie Rob Holding to partner with Laurent Koscielny at the back — a potentially precarious situation. Arsenal’s defensive problems have often arisen from a lack of depth, not so much from their starting personnel.
At face value, Mustafi is exactly the reinforcement that Arsenal need. The twenty-four-year-old center-back will provide a strong defensive presence for the Gunners, having emerged as a leader in a turbulent season at Valencia last year. Being of similar ilk to Mertesacker, he could prove an ideal partner for Koscielny.
Mustafi rose through the youth ranks at Hamburger SV before joining Everton in 2009, but left for Sampdoria before he could make his professional debut. He made a maiden appearance for the Italian side as they won promotion from Serie B and pinned down a starting position over the next two years.
He then moved to Valencia in the summer of 2014 and established himself as one of La Liga’s most promising defenders. He debuted for the German national team around the same time, having been a part of their youth national team system for over six years, and has since won twelve caps for Die Mannschaft.
Mustafi has attracted interest from some of the world’s top clubs including Real Madrid and Chelsea, and has been linked with Arsenal throughout this summer. Now that the deal is finally coming together, with Mustafi reportedly having completed a medical at the Emirates on Friday morning, Wenger is eagerly anticipating his arrival.
“I think he’s a good signing but time will tell,” Wenger said, per The Guardian. “He had two years at Everton, he went to Italy, then Spain. But, you know, nineteen is a difficult age to play centre-half in the Premier League. He was Valencia’s captain last season and, if we get it done, we’ll have achieved what we wanted [this window].”
Whether or not Mustafi can be the be-all-end-all answer to Wenger’s problems, he definitely has the capabilities to be a part of the solution.