I can’t remember an Arsenal team with so many issues, not just on the pitch but also off it and our two protagonists, Luiz and Mustafi seemed to be the least of it.
The clubs decline had been swift and complete under the underwhelming tenure of Unai Emery and only a fool or a brave man was likely to take the job.
Luckily the fool was on extended vacation, leaving Mikel Arteta open to the proposition of sorting out a the gargantuan mess left behind by the previous regime.
It’s been challenging on so many fronts. Disunity, squabbles, bad attitudes, poor form individually and collectively and little or no funds. So bad in fact, that one wonders how the hierarchy managed to persuade Arteta to take the job.
Arteta has had to work his socks off since he arrived in December by quickly evaluating the problems whilst trying to find a solution with the same group of dysfunctional players.
Granted, he had the Academy to fall back on and it’s clear that within the next few years Arsenal could have one of the youngest and the most talented sides in the premier league.
Arteta had established a reputation for developing younger players, instilling confidence and enhancing their potential and talent, but no one knew that skill extended to experienced senior players.
Arsenal’s ongoing Renaissance under Arteta has included the resurrection of the careers of Arsenal’s favourite fall guys Shkodran Mustafi and David Luiz, known by some Arsenal fans as ‘The chuckle brothers’
In defence of the defence (Luiz and Mustafi pairing) :-
Mustafi has found it difficult to fit in and excel in defence since his much heralded arrival (2016/17) as the definitive answer to Arsenal defensive woes, he was a World Cup winner in the excellent German team of 2014.
Just two years later and Arsenal, who were notoriously frugal and still are, announced his arrival in a £35m transfer from Valencia.
He looked assertive, reliable and commanding, he looked like a bargain.
However, his struggles at Arsenal had fans openly mocking him for every mistake of which there were many.
They cheered each miscued pass or miss kick, they strangely enjoyed his increasing embarrassment of his endeavours and openly begged for his transfer on social media.
At one stage I remember wincing as the opposition came forward.
I watched painfully as he back peddled to his own area like a a clockwork stork with his upper and lower body parts seemingly independent of each other.
He made a desperate lunge which wasn’t unusual and thankfully the attacker pushed the ball too far and it dribbled out of play.
Mustafi is widely known for his obsession for going to ground too quickly and too often at key moments.
The first rule of defending I was told was to make yourself big, stay upright, limit the space, force the player out wide and only commit to the tackle at the last minute if you think you can win the ball.
Mustafi looked like he had never heard of those rules and just blundered about the pitch looking for opportunities to lay down.
Friends of mine called him ‘Baize’ because of the time he spent flat on his back.
In January 2020 both Mustafi and David Luiz were ruthlessly mocked in the 2-2 draw after Mustafi hobbled a back pass which left Bernd Leno stranded and Chelsea’s Tammy Abraham through on goal.
24' David Luiz comes on as a sub.
45+2' David Luiz defensive mishap leads to Sterling goal.
49' David Luiz receives red card for a foul in the box.
51' Kevin De Bruyne converts penalty shot.
2-0 Manchester City (-315).
— The Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) June 17, 2020
Luiz gave chase and upended the youngster which saw him receive an inevitable red card. From the resulting penalty (26) Jorginho gave Chelsea the lead.
Luiz had been a last minute trolley dash transfer in 2019 for the extravagant sum of £8m and it became clear very quickly that the Brazilian could be both Jekyll and Hyde in the same game, sometimes in the same half.
When he was bad he was terrible and any pace that the former Chelsea man once had remained at Stamford Bridge after the move.
He was often caught out of position, struggled to recover in defence and seemed more adept at passing the ball like a creative midfielder.
Luiz couldn’t find his feet in the Arsenal side and his degradation reached epic proportions after the premier league restart.
At the Etihad against Manchester City he gifted Raheem Sterling a goal and got himself sent off for mauling Riyad Mahrez.
The writing had been on the wall with the Brazilian looking unsure and unsteady and as a result Luiz found himself on the bench for the City game.
The football God’s were in his corner at this point.
After an unfortunate injury to Pablo Mari after 20 minutes Luiz was called upon and from then on the Gods added to the defenders misery.
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In both cases involving Mustafi and Luiz, Arteta has managed to convince the players of their value to the team and addressed their individual failings by making them dependent on each other.
There’s nothing better than the understanding between centre backs, it instils confidence and aids a sides ability to attack because the backline is solid.
There’s more work to do and Arsenal defended well as a unit but Luiz put in a standout performance against City and both Mustafi and Luiz shone in midweek victory against the premier league champions.
The two defenders Arsenal fans least wanted to see in their backline were suddenly crucial to their success, a quite remarkable turn around in fortunes, especially given the mood after the loss in the NLD.
Mustafi could easily get a new contract at the Emirates due to the upturn and Luiz has already extended his for a season.
He is starting to, dare I say it, look dependable in a crisis and you wonder where this version of the player was hiding when Arsenal were conceding goals left, right and centre earlier in the season.
Luiz could yet be key to any late flourish that Arteta has planned, he and Mustafi are excelling in the back three formation with the ever reliant and excellent Kieran Tierney.
In fact if Aubameyang wasn’t already captain, the Brazilian would be making a strong case for the honour. He communicates in the box, he can be heard shouting, can be seen pointing and doing all those things that leaders do.
Luiz has assumed the role of general and Mustafi is his Lieutenant in a new look resilient defence.
The pair once dubbed Harpo and Chico (The Marx Brothers) have been rejuvenated under Arteta and look comfortable and commanding.
I can’t even believe I’m writing these words but they will have to keep working at it because the negatives in their individual game can only be cancelled out by the positives when they combine.
Those fans that didn’t believe in Arteta are starting to question their initial reservations and if the board grants him sufficient transfer funds Arsenal could provide a real challenge to Liverpool and Manchester City next season.
Not for the premier league title, that’s too early, even if they have a great transfer window but they could deprive both of points or even cause an upset by winning.