Arsenal’s 2-0 North London derby victory over Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday was a much-needed boost to Arsene Wenger’s side, who have been found wanting so far this term maybe on more occasions than they would have liked.
Early season defeats to Stoke City and Liverpool, as well as losses at both Watford and Manchester City over the past month, had provoked cause for concern as to whether last year’s disappointment was simply set to be repeated this time around.
However, three points over arch-rivals Spurs at the weekend, a determined performance at Chelsea and an undefeated Europa League campaign have quashed any major doubts over the possibilities of a top-four finish once again.
A large portion of that buoyancy currently surrounding the Emirates Stadium is the Arsenal defence, which received a welcome comeback on Saturday with Shkodran Mustafi turning out in an Gunners shirt for the first time since early October.
During the Germany international’s 40-day absence, which saw him miss eight games across all competitions, the North Londoners shipped eight goals in their five domestic outings – with seven coming against them in the Premier League and one against Norwich City in the Carabao Cup.
The correlation between the centre-back’s unavailability and a downturn in form was no coincidence, as when stats are taken into consideration, the former Valencia centre-back, who made the £36.9 million switch to the Emirates Stadium from the La Liga outfit in the summer of 2016, is clearly the most proactive man at the back within Wenger’s ranks.
On average, Mustafi has completed 10 defensive actions per game across the six English top flight appearances he has made so far this term, from which his side have claimed 13 of the 18 points on offer.
That figure is higher than any other teammate who make up the Arsenal back line, with Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker performing nine, Nacho Monreal eight, Rob Holding five and Sead Kolasinac and Hector Bellerin three apiece.
However, it is not just in front of his own goal where the Everton youth academy graduate has an impact for the Gunners, with the player netting his third career goal for the club via a sublime header to mark the North London derby victors’ opener on Saturday.
Against Tottenham, Koscielny made a number of needless errors and the German was the man there to pick up the pieces.
Without doubt Wenger will be pleased to have Mustafi available once again for selection, and if the towering centre-half is able to continue him impressive defensive record so far this campaign, with his side conceding just one goal in the league during the fixtures he has been a part of, Champions League qualification will surely be within reach come May.