Praveen’s latest “The Arsenal Annals” column.
Arsenal overcame the Swansea City voodoo when they handed the Swans a 3-2 defeat at Emirates Stadium in Bob Bradley’s first game in charge.
Although the win barely ranks amongst Arsenal’s best defensive performances – statistically, at least – it highlighted the attributes Arsenal’s six consecutive Premier League wins – or their unbeaten run of 11 games – has been built upon.
Shkodran Mustafi, the £34.85 million arrival from Valencia, has not only swiftly gelled with the team but has also played a significant role in their recent upturn in form.
With him on the pitch, the Gunners have conceded only 0.7 goals per game as opposed to 1.25 in his absence. The player attributes his quick impact to his perfect understanding with centre-back partner Laurent Koscielny.
Whilst talking to Arsenal Media, he said, “We are quite similar in the style of playing; he understands things that I do, and I understand things that he does.”
Whilst the 3-4 defeat to Liverpool skews the perception, the difference from the last season is definitely vast. They had averaged only 2 points per game at this stage last season whilst they are on 2.4 points per game this season.
Although their progress is the result of collective improvement, the Kostafi certainly deserve credits, primarily for their reliability.
Relentless pressing often leads to quick counter attacks that ought to be nipped in the bud. With the Arsenal manager incorporating the press into his new system, they are sometimes left vulnerable on the break.
However, the German international defender averts danger during opposition’s counters as he anticipates danger almost impeccably.
The pressure he imposes on the opposition by blocking the passing lanes more often than not results in a poor pass from the attacker that the other defenders deal with with much ease.
Should the onrushing attacking player somehow manage to get past him, his French colleague bosses the opposition like he has been doing since his arrival in London.
Players from other leagues usually take weeks to adapt to the demands of the English game; even Arsenal’s interim-skipper required a few starts to sweep the fans off their feet. However, the Mustafi has busted that myth, given his ease on the ball and his grasp of the English game.
The Gunners manager pointed toward Mustafi’s diversified employers when quizzed about his quick adaptation.
He said, “The fact that he has been out for a long time in different countries at a very young age certainly has helped him grow in confidence quicker. He has good communication and good individual qualities as well. He’s also got strong commitment, is good in the challenge, and good in the fight. You need those qualities in England because you’re tested very quickly.”
Besides being solid at the back, the duo’s contribution in the attacking third makes them a serious contender for the best-defensive-duo award in the league.
Koscielny’s two goals make him the top-scoring centre-back in the league whilst Mustafi’s pinpoint long balls and sizable contribution in the attacking third offers a different something every now and then.
Gabriel Paulista garnered similar reception from the Arsenal faithful as Mustafi, after a few appearances in the red and white strip. However, the quality of performances that the former Everton centre-back produces offers as much hope as one can have.
Should Koscielny keep up his level of performance for a few more years, the Arsenal management will have the liberty to worry about other areas of the pitch, especially with good defenders in Calum Chambers, Robert Holding, and Krystian Bielik yearning for starts.
Written by Praveen Paramasivam
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