There was a time earlier this summer when Arsenal's priority in the transfer market was not at centre-back. They started off by signing Granit Xhaka from Borussia Monchengladbach and then turned their attention to strikers, trying to fill the gap left by Danny Welbeck’s absence for at least the first half of next season. That was why they tried to prise Jamie Vardy away from Leicester City, believing over one frantic weekend in early June that the FWA Footballer of the Year was theirs.
But the situation has changed and now, with the Premier League season just two weeks away, Arsenal have another problem to solve. Per Mertesacker’s knee injury costs them their most experienced defender until Christmas at the earliest. There is a question mark hanging over Laurent Koscielny’s early role, too, given that he has not returned for pre-season after an exhausting summer with France. That is why Arsene Wenger is now trying to sign a new centre-back.
Earlier in the summer, when defence was not the priority, Arsenal were offered Shkodran Mustafi, Valencia’s German centre-back. Wenger did not rush to sign him. But now the stocky defender addresses a real need, and Arsenal are considering going back in for him and paying his £21million price tag.
What Arsenal need more than anything else is an experienced defender who can slot straight in, preferably for the games against Liverpool and Leicester City on 14 and 20 August. They have young defenders, in Calum Chambers, Rob Holding and Krystian Bielik, but need someone ready now.
That is why Mustafi is back on Arsenal's radar. He is 24 years old and has performed very impressively in his two seasons at Valencia despite a constant merry-go-round of coaches at the Mestalla. He settled instantly into Spanish football after arriving from Sampdoria, forming a perfect partnership with Nicolas Otamendi in the 2014-15 season. Last year, when Otamendi had been sold to Manchester City, Mustafi was not quite as good alongside Aymen Abdennour but he still held his own.
Mustafi is not the tallest centre-back in Europe but he is quick, clever and ferociously competitive. He is an intelligent player who learned the game in Germany and England before kicking his senior career off in Serie A and La Liga.
That breadth of experience makes him a perfect fit for international football and Joachim Loew trusts him. He played at the 2014 World Cup, twice as a sub at centre-back, once starting at right-back. Then, this summer, at Euro 2016, he started at centre-back instead of Mats Hummels against Ukraine, and scored the opening goal. He is talented, experienced, available and inexpensive. The attraction to Arsenal is obvious.
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