Arsenal’s success against Manchester United may depend on Shkodran Mustafi’s fitness. And not just because we need his ability out there.
Arsenal have a big time conundrum going into this Manchester United match. And it doesn’t involve anything we are used to stressing about. It involves the availability of Shkodran Mustafi, the hotly-contested centerback who is just as likely to have a world class game as he is to lay a completely dud.
But as it currently stands, the Gunners desperately need him to be fit and firing for the midweek fixture just three short days after that high-intensity pressure cooker against Tottenham Hotspur.
These past two matches, against Tottenham and Bournemouth, have been successful (progressively so) because of the formation being used. The formation with three at the back. Because as long as three are at the back, both the wingbacks as well as the midfield get added security to do what we all love to see – attack.
As it stands, the Gunners only have three centerbacks available for selection – Sokratis, the centerpiece of the whole schematic; Rob Holding, the learning young man; and… Shkodran Mustafi.
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Mustafi came off early against Tottenham due to injury problems after having a fantastic day of disruption and yet again leading the club in ball-winning. This back three provides him a newfound freedom as well, a freedom to blitz forward to win back balls with even more zeal knowing that that is safety behind him.
But it’s more than that. Without Mustafi, Emery literally cannot opt for a back three, because there would only be two healthy centerbacks. So the club would have to revert to a 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1, meaning that Bellerin and Kolasinac would be exposed all over again and a the tightly compact cored that makes the three at the back so special would be spread much thinner.
In summary – it’s not a good thing. Just watch the best of Kolasinac these past two matches and that’s all you’ll need to see. He has yet to translate his successes to fullback, as unfortunate as that is, but that is also perfectly okay. He is what he is, and what he is is an incredibly talented wingback who has become our chief creator.
For that sake, and the sake of tightening up all the loosening gaps, I hope that Mustafi can find health before the match. I know that it’s asking a lot for a quick turnaround like this, but isn’t it worth the risk?