As all Arsenal fans who aren’t living under rocks know by now, the club has agreed a £35 million fee with Valencia for the services of central defender and German international Shkodran Mustafi. Arsène Wenger said today that the deal’s basically completed, so we thought it’d be nice to learn a little more about the player we might be getting (as we did the other day with Lucas Pérez). That’s why we reached out to Andrew Gaffney, La Liga writer for Yahoo Sports UK and noted Valencia fan. Here’s what he had to say on Mustafi and his possible fit at Arsenal.
The Short Fuse: Style-wise, how does Shkodran Mustafi tend to play? Is he more of a marauder, or is he positionally sound, or somewhere in between?
Andrew Gaffney: He's traditionally a no-nonsense type of defender who isn't afraid to put his body on the line to break up an opposition's attack. He's comfortable on the ball but isn't likely to go charging up the pitch, dribbling past everyone in his way. Instead he'll prefer to push forward but then look for a long ball up to the main striker, or over the top for someone to run on to. His long range passing is an area he is working on but as with most defenders, it can be hit and miss. Mustafi is positionally strong although he has been caught out a couple of times when he's overcommitted to a challenge around the halfway line. That isn't the norm, mind, as he's actually very good at reading the play and more often than not times his challenges to perfection.
TSF: If we manage to complete this deal, would Mustafi partner well with a defender like Laurent Koscielny, who tends to rely on pace and can sometimes find himself up the pitch and needing cover?
AG: I don't see why the two wouldn't compliment each other. You need to remember in his debut season for Valencia he lined up alongside Nicolas Otamendi, another defender who loves to bomb forward and go on mazy runs. Mustafi isn't as fast as Koscielny and once a speedy forward has got beyond him he's probably going to be beat for pace but, in the same regard, he isn't slow either. He's disciplined enough to stay back and cover, holding up the attack until he's got more teammates around him.
TSF: How is Mustafi on set pieces, both defensively and offensively? He’s slightly shorter than Koscielny, but obviously that isn’t necessarily an issue.
AG: Mustafi is a threat from set pieces but is stronger at defending them as opposed to being a danger in the opposition's box. Otamendi once again stole the headlines for his goalscoring prowess when the two lined up together but Mustafi is very strong in the air too. His record of just six goals in two seasons isn't fantastic but it’s not bad either. Like a lot of defenders who aren't the tallest, it's his leap and the timing of it which gives him an advantage over his marker. I don't think the set-piece heavy Premier League will unsettle him as his stats when it comes aerial duels are not far off those of Diego Godin's.
TSF: How close to the finished product is Mustafi? Is this the player we’re getting, or could he get even better?
AG: I think Mustafi is quite close to the finished product but will continue to improve – he's only 24 after all. He adapted wonderfully to La Liga and while last season wasn't great for the club, he still stood out as one of the best defenders in the division. I've seen a lot of people, who clearly haven't seen him play that often, say he's "overrated" and not worth the £35m price tag. I honestly feel that's a fair fee as he'd have cost you his entire buyout clause just 12 months ago. Strong in the air and in the tackle, a natural leader and a player who will give 100% every time he steps out onto that pitch.
Mustafi must have known he was likely to leave this summer but still came on as a substitute against Las Palmas last Monday and eventually took the armband. He doesn't shirk his responsibilities and I think Arsenal's backline will be better for an extra voice and added competitiveness there.