Unai Emery has leapt the defence of under-fire Shkodran Mustafi, saying the German is a ‘a very good centre-back’, but says his habit of going to ground in the tackle is something he needs to address.
He also, somewhat remarkably, says the mistake which led to Wilfried Zaha’s goal, was one of his system and not an individual error by the defender.
It’s not the first time he’s made mistakes this season, and his apparent willingness to blame anyone but himself only exacerbates frustration. However, the Arsenal boss has given Mustafi his backing, hoping to boost his confidence for our run-in and this evening’s encounter with Wolves.
“I want every player to have big confidence,” he said.
“I want to protect the players. Mustafi is a very good player, a very good centre-back, he has the habit – usually he is doing the tackle and going to ground, using anticipation against the opposition.
“He can win one, win two, win three, win four – but if he loses one he is the picture and if he concedes a goal he is the big picture. For example, Sunday was the same and happened with him.
“I have spoken to him: ‘You are young, you can improve and you need also to work hard because you have a big quality for a centre-back.’”
The turning point of Sunday’s defeat to Palace was that dreadful Mustafi mistake, but Emery says it was a problem of the system, because he is better suited to playing in a back three and he didn’t get enough protection from players around him.
“When we use three centre backs, we protect them more,” he said. “You can anticipate, and you can lose one tackle but we have two who are covering.
“When we have only two, if you lose the anticipation, there is only one behind. That is happening a lot with Mustafi, but I want him not every time to do the tackle on the ground.”
“Sometimes you need to stop, sometimes you need to stay with the player because sometimes we concede a penalty because you want to anticipate.
“He is young, he is improving and Sunday he is in the big picture because of the second goal. Who is in this picture? Mustafi – but it’s not his mistake.
“The mistake was tactical because we need to protect him with two centre-backs against Zaha. I protect him because I believe in him.
“He needs to improve things tactically, decision-making, but he has good quality and needs confidence.
“Now, maybe he has lost a bit of confidence. My work is to help him. We need him. I am going to say to our supporters, ‘Help our players.’ But I know we need to take the criticism and be strong as players, as a coach, as a team, as a club.
“We receive criticism in some moments but it’s our work. We need to improve knowing that.”
We can only assume that with a paucity of options at centre-half, Emery is looking to boost the spirits of a player he’ll need between now and the end of the campaign, but to suggest it was an issue with our system and not a calamitous mistake from Mustafi is no easy reading because that’s just not what happened.
Is it a sign that he’ll play tonight against Wolves? I guess we’ll see soon enough.