Arsenal Opinion: Emery should make it a priority to offload Mustafi following Palace defeat
Prior to the game on Sunday, Arsenal had not lost a home game in the Premier League since their 2-0 defeat to Man City on the opening day of the season more than eight months ago.
Given that all the big-six teams, excluding City, had failed to get the better of the Gunners at home, few would have given Crystal Palace to end their unbeaten run at home.
However, Palace defied the odds to claim all three points at the Emirates, with a lot of help from Shkodran Mustafi. The German international has been in a poor run of form all season and he proved once again why he is a glaring liability at the back for Unai Emery.
Arsenal have come under criticism numerous times for their lacklustre defending as a unit but Mustafi has probably been the weakest link in a backline that has creaked far too often this season.
Christian Benteke did ever so well to head it home off Luka Milivojevic’s free-kick early in the first-half to put the Eagles in the driver’s seat. The Belgian deserves all the credit for getting in front of the defenders.
Although Mustafi wasn’t the lone man entrusted with the responsibility of keeping an eye on Benteke, he got nowhere close to the ball and didn’t even make an attempt to stop the striker from getting his head to it. Agreed, it would be harsh to criticize Mustafi too much for the first goal but what happened in the second half was totally beyond belief, and perhaps unforgivable.
Palace deservedly went into the interval with the lead, having played some brilliant attacking football in the first half. The Gunners were really poor in the first forty-five minutes and they had to come out in the second half with a point to prove.
And Mesut Ozil ensured that the hosts drew level right after the restart, beating Vicente Guaita with a neat dinked finish at his near post. It looked as if Arsenal would find a winner, with so much of the second half left to play.
But then, just after the hour mark, Mustafi came up with the game-changing moment.
He has been slammed a million times by the fans and the pundits for his poor decision-making and lack of composure this season but few would have expected him to do what he did on Sunday. Mustafi allowed a flick-on off a free-kick from deep inside Palace’s half to roll through to Bernd Leno, despite being closed down by Wilfried Zaha.
Zaha took advantage of that bizarre piece of defending to make it 2-1. Call it a poor piece of decision making or an occasional lapse in concentration, what Mustafi did on Sunday might just spell the end of his time as an Arsenal player.
His mistake ensured all the momentum that Arsenal had gathered in the second half after Ozil’s goal completely evaporated, and James McArthur rubbed salt on the wounds to make it 3-1 soon after.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang reignited hopes of a remarkable comeback with a clinical finish late in the game but it was always going to be too much of an ask for the Gunners to repair the damage. Given that Spurs lost to Man City on Saturday, the Gunners had a golden chance to leapfrog their rivals up to 3rd in the standings.
Instead, they now have a difficult job on their hands if they are to finish in the top four, with Emery’s side set to play Wolves, Leicester City and Burnley away from home in three of their remaining four games.
Mustafi was the architect of Arsenal’s first home defeat in almost nine months. It is a no-brainer that the Gunners need to invest heavily in their options at the back in the summer if they are to challenge the top teams.
Arsenal’s long list of injury absentees at the back has apparently forced Emery to persist with the listless and unimpressive Mustafi but the Gunners desperately need to replace him at the end of the season.
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That said, moving away from the error-prone German should be a priority for the manager in the summer, as Arsenal cannot afford to bear with such liabilities for much longer.