Player focus: Mustafi returns revitalised against Southampton

It was like he never left.

Having not featured for almost a month, sidelined with a thigh injury, Shkodran Mustafi started and excelled as Arsenal kept a well-earned clean sheet against Southampton.

The 25-year-old German was composed in defence and needed to be, playing as the central defender in a three-man partnership alongside Holding and Monreal with Koscielny (knock) not risked for this fixture.

He made a number of important defensive contributions when called upon to keep Southampton at bay for sustained periods. Winning four aerial duels, only Kieran Gibbs (5) won more than him across both sides at St. Mary’s.

There were a few instances where an attempted offside trap move was thwarted, but this will happen less frequently once he becomes accustomed to his team-mates’ tendencies. It’s easy to forget that this is his first match in a three defender formation but the mutual understanding will improve once he continues to train in this new set-up.

With five completed tackles, two interceptions and an impressive nine clearances, he was certainly prepared to deal with Southampton’s threat on the counter-attack and did so with tenacity.

Mustafi’s positioning was important on a few occasions here, to ensure he anticipated danger and stopped it in its tracks. (Picture source: Getty Images)

He made a crucial sliding block to deny Dusan Tadic before Cech’s reaction stop to block Manolo Gabbiadini from opening the scoring after half-an-hour.

Harshly penalised for a clean sliding tackle on the aforementioned Tadic, it was Mustafi’s only foul committed on the evening and he performed well throughout.

Alexis was undoubtedly Arsenal’s matchwinner but if not for Mustafi’s defensive contribution, it could’ve been a completely different result.

With matches coming thick and fast, you can only hope that two consecutive clean sheets will boost Arsenal’s confidence levels as they need to continue winning until the end of the season.

You can see that Mustafi’s return has added more conviction to the backline, even if Koscielny was not risked on this occasion.

That can only be a positive thing going forward.

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