In it seemed like yesterday would just be another day of looking into the struggles of Arsenal’s fixture against Leicester City, but we got a bit of a shock when news came out that Arsenal had not only offered Mustafi a contract extension, but that Mustafi had turned that contract down. Yes, you read that right. Mustafi turned down the extension and intends to leave the club next summer.
I won’t lie, I am extremely thankful about outcome. Mustafi was a player that struggled immensely under Unai Emery and seemed to be on his way out of club. When Emery moved along, Arteta went out of his way to bring Mustafi out of the cold and was rewarded with a significant uptick in performance and a regular starter to play alongside Luiz. Sadly, he ended last season, and technically started this one, with a hamstring injury.
While he was out, Arsenal found themselves a spectacular left center back in Gabriel, which has led Arteta to shifting David Luiz over to the right side. Suddenly, the right side of the central pairing is oddly void of options, yet highly competitive. Luiz, Chambers, and Rob Holding all find themselves injured at the moment, while Saliba has yet to be selected by Arteta. This leaves just Mustafi for now, but it’s hard to imagine Mustafi retains that spot in the coming months — especially now that he has rejected an extension. To make the situation a little more definitive, Mustafi’s poor 45 minutes against Leicester was a stark reminder of how poor Mustafi is capable of being at times.
What shocks me, is that Arsenal have offered him a contract. I suppose it was unclear from the news when Arsenal offered him the contract, but the extension of Mustafi would be an incredibly poor choice. We have Luiz for a few more years, after his long term deal this summer, who should be eased out of time as the year goes on to allow younger, more promising players to establish themselves. Saliba the most obvious player I would like to see grow, but Rob Holding and Calum Chambers are two others that should be considered. Having their time or growth obstructed by Mustafi’s presence is the type of mistake Arsenal need to stop making and move away from.
The only question I am left with, is why the club itself felt like that idea was a good one? I suppose all is well that ends well, but worrisome that we can’t seem to shake this notion of offering contract extensions to odd fits.
Save the legs, play the kids
Last week was a tough a week, Manchester City on one Sunday, Rapid Vienna on Thursday to kick off the Europa League, and another grind against Leicester City the following Sunday. It’s something Arteta commented on after the match. “I think fatigue had a say as well,” said Mikel. “We didn’t look as sharp on the ball. We didn’t have as much purpose on the ball to create.”
Fatigue early in the year spells trouble. Especially during this year, when fatigue is certain to be a major obstacle teams need to navigate. There was a limited offseason, a limited preseason, and the second half of the season will be a gauntlet to navigate. Dealing with fatigue issues that see your team unable to show a sense of urgency and push throughout the second half of a match they dominated for the first half is troubling.
If it is possible for there to be something more disappointing than that, it’s the fact that this outcome was avoidable. Arteta made the calculated decision to play a very strong lineup against Rapid Vienna in the middle of the week. In fact, Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos were the only two that started the Leicester City game that did not have minutes during the midweek Vienna match, and Ceballos was hurt. Was it necessary to play that strong of a lineup in the midweek matchup against Austria’s third best side?
Now we are in the midst of another week where we have to imagine fatigue is a major aspect to be conscious of. The players entered it fatigued in their game against Leicester, they have another midweek matchup in the Europa League, and a major away fixture at weekend against Manchester United at Old Trafford. It’s a potential mistake that Arteta can hardly afford to roll the dice on once more, which means he needs to turn to a heavily rotated, and young, side for the match against Dundalk.
I mean no disrespect to Dundalk and everything they have achieved to get to this point, but they are a side you have to imagine we can expect a younger Arsenal side to compete with and beat at The Emirates. However, that will take a conscious decision from Arteta to stray from his usual decision of putting out strong sides within cup competitions.
Personally, I don’t find it to be much of a choice. Arsenal didn’t manage to get the job done at home against Leicester City which means losing to United this weekend would start to put Arsenal in a precarious, unstable position. They need to put their best foot forward and to do so, they will need to have a refreshed side.
What does that look like? We will get more into an official predicted lineup in tomorrow’s match preview, but I wouldn’t mind seeing Reiss Nelson, Nketiah or even Lacazette, if Aubameyang is going to play central at the weekend, and Pepe or Willian if he needs minutes. For a midfield I believe we should be looking strongly at Willock and Emile Smith Rowe being involved, while setting them up for success with another veteran midfielder like Elneny. We know Mustafi will get the call at right central back given our limited options, but I would like to see Maitland-Niles on the field instead of Soares or Kolasinac.
These are major opportunities to get them minutes while resting the side to get them ready for larger tasks. It’s a long season, so these aspects need to be taken into account. Save the legs, play the kids. You can do it, Mikel.
Alright, leaving it there. We will see what comes in the next day or two leading up the match, and stay tuned later this week for a deep dive in Ceballos’ game at the weekend playing alongside Partey and Xhaka in a very unfamiliar role. Putting together a deeper dive into all of that.
Have a great day. Stay safe, stay well, see you on social media!