After years of trying, Arsene Wenger has in Shkodran Mustafi a top-class defender at Arsenal
Mustafi 59’, Sanchez 90’+8 (pen)
Gray 90’+3 (pen)
LONDON // Given everything that has happened since, it is an even more eye-catching statistic now than it was at the time.
Long before he became a two-time Uefa Champions League winner and world-class superstar at Real Madrid, Gareth Bale was Tottenham Hotspur’s bad luck charm.
The Welshman, then a left-back rather than an electric attacker, failed to emerge victorious from any of his first 24 Premier League appearances for Tottenham. Bale was not solely responsible for such a poor run of results, but it is still the type of record that no player wants to be associated with.
Shkodran Mustafi has had an altogether more positive start to his career in north London. Whereas Bale could not win, the German cannot lose.
Arsenal’s 2-1 win over Burnley made it 21 matches unbeaten for the centre-half since his summer switch from Valencia.
Fifteen of those triumphs have been in the Premier League – Mustafi was absent from the defeats by Everton and Manchester City and had not yet arrived at the club when Liverpool ran out 4-3 winners on the opening weekend of the season – which is the longest run of any player in the division this term.
Mustafi was central to Arsene Wenger’s side’s success on Sunday. His 58th-minute header was ultimately overshadowed by a chaotic and topsy-turvy eight minutes of injury time, but it was the 24-year-old player’s goal – his first for Arsenal – that set the hosts on their way to victory.
Arsenal struggled to break down their dogged opponents for much of the game, with Burnley’s defensive discipline restricting Wenger’s charges to just three shots on target in the first half.
Sean Dyche’s men also posed a threat on the counter-attack, with Andre Gray’s clever movement at times allowing him to get the better of Mustafi, but Arsenal responded well by increasing the intensity of their play after the interval.
Their reward came when Mesut Ozil’s corner was met by Mustafi’s head, the centre-back rising highest to flick the ball into the far corner of the net.
From there, it looked as if Arsenal would complete a straightforward win with a minimum of fuss. Granit Xhaka’s propensity to dive into tackles changed the dynamic of the match soon after, however: the midfielder’s reckless lunge on Steven Defour brought his second red card of the campaign and meant the home side would spend the final 25 minutes with only 10 men on the pitch.
Arsenal sat a little deeper thereafter, as Burnley grew emboldened by their numerical advantage. Mustafi and Laurent Koscielny stood up well to the visitors’ aerial threat, but their good work was undone when Francis Coquelin felled Ashley Barnes and gave Gray the chance to equalise from the penalty spot.
The drama did not end there, though, Alexis Sanchez keeping his cool from 12 yards to edge Arsenal back ahead after Ben Mee caught Koscielny – who appeared to be in an offside position when the ball was launched forward – with a high foot.
It was a breathless end to an entertaining encounter, and while Wenger was ultimately relieved to pick up all three points, he will have been disappointed to see his team concede another penalty at home.
Burnley’s was the fourth spot-kick opponents have won in Arsenal’s last seven league games at the Emirates, but it is notable that they have not conceded a goal from open play in front of their own supporters since the win over Swansea in October.
Mustafi, still undefeated in an Arsenal shirt, has been integral to their solidity during that time. After years of trying, Wenger has finally found a top-class partner for Koscielny at the heart of his side’s backline.
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Updated: January 22, 2017 04:00 AM