Kostafi - The Key To Arsenal's Title Hopes

Kostafi – The Key To Arsenal’s Title Hopes

As the summer progressed, frustrations among the Arsenal supporters with the lack of cover for the central defenders. The club signed Rob Holding, a promising 20 year-old from Bolton Wanderers but he was one for the future. Experience wasn’t thin on the ground but numbers were.

Per Mertesacker was already ruled out for six months following an injury suffered during the pre-season friendly in Lens and matters got worse for Arsène Wenger. Gabriel went down in Stockholm during the final minutes against Manchester City leaving the team many people were touted for a title challenge, were in trouble at the back.

Underlining the depth of Wenger’s problem, Arsenal succumbed to a 3 – 4 defeat on the opening day with Calum Chambers joining Holding in a youthful but inescapably makeshift central pairing.

The duo weren’t at fault for the defeat; more experienced players let the side down but neither Chambers nor Holding was able to assert any authority on their colleagues. The disadvantage of the callowness of youth was there for all to see.

Laurent Koscielny was rushed back following his rest following the defeat and immediately recalled to the starting line-up, partnering Holding. Chambers left for Middlesbrough on loan as Arsenal, after protracted negotiations, landed experienced German international, Shkodran Mustafi.

Sold by Everton as a teenager, Mustafi had been at Sampdoria before moving to Valencia. It was his displays for the La Liga side which brought him to the attention of a number of clubs but Arsenal were the only ones to make a concrete offer.

He joined as the window closed, leaving for international duty before he could make an appearance for his new club but when he did, there was little doubt that the £35m fee was money well spent by the north London club. He and Koscielny settled quickly into a rhythm together, going from strength to strength.

It’s long been a weakness in the Arsenal squad. Typically, Wenger has two strong first choice centre backs but the depth hasn’t been there. And the Frenchman has been let down by experienced players as well.

William Gallas is the worst example, abdicating his responsibilities as captain and as an experienced player. Thomas Vermaelen lost his way having been an excellent acquisition initially, his confidence rocked by an appalling performance at White Hart Lane in March 2013. It was his last start of the season with injury and the form of Mertesacker and Koscielny as a partnership, limiting the Belgian’s opportunities.

Like Philippe Senderos and Johann Djourou, Vermaelen left in search of first team football, with Arsenal failing to replace any of them adequately. On several occasions, Wenger found himself moving Bacary Sagna or Nacho Monreal from full back into the centre due to injury. It happened often enough for a valid question to be asked whether the Arsenal manager had a blind spot when it came to centre backs.

Koscielny and Mustafi – or ‘ Kostafi ’ as some refer to them as – are resurrecting the memories of the strong Arsenal centre back pairings of the past; not yet proven as the heirs of Adams and Bould but certainly looking that strong.

Their greatest strength is the lack of ego on the pitch. With both there is a strong sense of team players before self. It’s a rarity in this money-driven age of football but the whole of Arsenal’s back four is thinks that way. Nacho Monreal, unfussy left back gets on with it whilst Hector Bellerin spritely attacking forays mask the solid concentration he applies to his defensive duties.

Crucially, the centre backs, with a solid goalkeeper behind them, feed confidence to the rest of the Xi. It’s a genuine case of ‘you score your goals, we’ll take care of the rest. The opening day looks more of an aberration with every passing game. Five goals conceded in the opening three games, the same number in the next seven. Kostafi is coming into its own.

There’s a danger that too much will be read into what is still after all, a nascent partnership. Arsenal traditionally falter at this time of the year and with a run of fixtures which includes meetings with Tottenham, Manchester United and Paris St Germain, there is plenty of opportunity for them to do so.

But it doesn’t seem that way. There isn’t an air of impending doom when you look at the current duo in front of Cech or Ospina. More importantly, on the rare occasions he has been seen this year, Gabriel has looked more assured than before. There were concerns about the pace of his adjustment to English life – and his grasp of the language still raises eyebrows at the Emirates – affected his confidence but away from the spotlight, the Brazilian has matured.

It’s left Arsenal with a nice balance at the back. Two experienced internationals as first choice central defenders are augmented by Per Mertesacker’s experience, Gabriel’s uncompromising style and Rob Holding’s promise.

The England prospect can only benefit from his peers. The Germans have won medals for their country, Koscielny has a runners-up medal from this summer’s Euro 2016 whilst Gabriel has Brazilian caps, perhaps the most exacting of countries for a footballer to represent. A wealth of experience from which to learn.

For Arsenal’s title chances, the foundations are there. A strong partnership at the heart of the defence with able deputies for the short or long-term. The Gunners have the answers in defence and midfield, transferring the questions to their strike force.

Upon such strength in depth are title challenges built.

About the Author Moha

Hardcore fun of the beautiful game. Played soccer for different clubs in my country before hanging up my boots. Now writer for My Soccer HQ

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