Arsenal were well and truly humbled last week after back-to-back thrashings at the hands of Manchester City, yet rather than responding with a victory against Chris Hughton’s men, Arsene Wenger’s players produced another lacklustre display, losing 2-1 to Brighton and Hove Albion at the Amex stadium, writes Maryam Naz.
Despite the attacking prowess and hard-working ethos that earned Brighton the win, it was negligence from Arsenal’s defence that steered the tie in their favour, in particular, the defensive woes of Shkodran Mustafi.
The German struggled against the strength and pace of Glenn Murray and Jose Izquierdo, playing a part in both the opener and the goal that sealed the win for the Seagulls.
The defensive issues became prominent for the Gunners as early as seven minutes in. When Petr Cech’s faulty punch landed to the unmarked Lewis Dunk, Mustafi, who had drifted away from him, was unable to stop the Brighton centre back from slotting the ball into the top corner.
In the series of corners to follow for Houghton’s side, the issue would re-occur with Brighton defenders out- jumping their Arsenal counterparts, who were just not competing in the air at all. Luckily for Mustafi and co, the headers would evade Cech’s goal.
Arsenal’s, and indeed Mustafi’s, woes would worsen when in the 25th minute, Brighton doubled their lead through Murray (who else?). The Englishman, who has scored more goals than Alexis Sanchez this season, was supposed to be marked by Mustafi, yet the sleeping German lost track of him, realised and backpedalled too late.
Despite going in at halftime with a lifeline in the form of a goal scored by Pierre Emerick Aubameyang, the performance of Mustafi and his fellow defenders worsened in the second-half.
On two occasions Murray was allowed through on goal, yet fortunately for the German, his lack of pace meant that he was unable to conjure up anything to test Cech’s goal again.
Mustafi’s defending against Izquierdo wasn’t any better due to the pacey and slick nature of the Colombian’s forward play. In the dying moments of the game, he brought down Murray for a free-kick playing a part in relieving the pressure off Brighton in the face of relentless waves of attack from Arsenal, gifting the Seagulls three massive points
The positioning issues inherent in Mustafi’s play today is not a one-off. Across the season he has shown a proclivity to be drawn out of position towards opposition attacking players, disrupting the back line and causing defensive havoc for his team-mates.
In Arsenal’s defeat to Chelsea earlier on in the season, as the spare man, he did very little to cover threats in the central midfield area and was often drawn towards the ball and the player, which almost resulted in a Chelsea goal as he played Michy Batshuayi onside.
To worsen this issue, the German is prone to ball-watching, which means whilst he is being drawn out of his position, he is unable to keep a track of players who may be making sly runs behind him.
Another issue related to this is his forward-thinking. Whilst he is sometimes praised for being on the front-foot and making interceptions, he has shown a lack of understanding of when to dribble ahead and pass and when to drop back.
This was apparent in today’s game wherein the build-up to the same goal, he made a forward pass to Jack Wilshere instead of making the safe decision to pass to his keeper. Wilshere, who was not ready for the pass nor in the right position, was unable to collect the ball, and instead it was picked up by Pascal Groß who crossed to Murray, making it 2-0.
The amount of space available to opposition attackers is dependent on the space defenders give, and whilst Mustafi has made many interceptions and tackles by this mindset, it has often resulted in a wayward pass reaching an unintended player, and today that cost Arsenal the game.
As Arsenal’s central defender, the German should be leading from the back, yet his consistently poor decision-making and lack of spatial awareness have cost them vital points on too many occasions. Either he faces the reality of his faulty performances and rectifies his mistakes, or he continues performing the way he’s done, and results like today continue to become a regular feature of Arsenal’s game.