Mikel Arteta hails Shkodran Mustafi for reviving Arsenal career with German defender in line for new contract

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IF THERE really is more joy in heaven over one repentant sinner than 99 righteous people, surely Arsenal fans can find it in their hearts to forgive Shkodran Mustafi.

The German defender has been testing their patience virtually from the day he was signed by Arsene Wenger back in 2016.

Yet just when they were preparing to cast him into the pit of eternal damnation, it seems that Mustafi has finally seen the error of his ways.

And suddenly all the Arsenal chat is about handing their prodigal son a new Emirates contract.

For the past three summers Mustafi appeared to be on his way out as first Wenger and then Unai Emery opened the door to his departure.

Yet no one was prepared to pay even a fraction of the £34.85million which Arsenal had shelled out to buy the error-prone man from Valencia.

Which meant he was still lingering like a bad smell when Mikel Arteta took charge in December looking for ways to stop the Arsenal rot.

Mustafi, who had managed just 90 minutes of Premier League action all season prior to Arteta’s arrival, certainly was not the new manager’s immediate solution to the problem.

But over the past five months he has gradually won his new manager over with his commitment, attitude and dedication to the cause.

And suddenly he finds himself one of the mainstays of a three-man Arsenal defence which has kept three successive Premier League clean sheets for the first time since November 2017.

With Jamie Vardy, Harry Kane, Mo Salah and Raheem Sterling among his next four opponents, there is still plenty of scope for Mustafi to revert to type in the next fortnight.

Yet Arteta is convinced the much-maligned 28-year-old has finally turned the corner.

He said: “We try to help every player to improve, first of all by making them feel that we trust them.

“Everyone can make mistakes, of course, but if they are willing to keep trying then they will get rewarded.

“Musti’s attitude, the way he is training, attention levels, the questions he is asking and how much he wants to help everybody has been really good since I joined.”

The way he nullified the threat of Wolves’ 24-goal Raul Jimenez was a crucial factor in this vital win for Arteta’s team.

Yet Mustafi’s future remains far from clear.

He is now in the final year of an Arsenal contract which is worth about £80,000-a-week.

The signings of Pablo Mari and William Saliba coupled with David Luiz’s contract extension means the Gunners now have SEVEN central defenders in their squad.

Yet Mustafi certainly appears to be ahead of Sokratis, Rob Holding and Konstantinos Mavropanos in Arteta’s estimation, which means he is no longer first in the queue at the exit door for this summer’s clear-out.

And he can take heart from how Granit Xhaka has been rehabilitated at
the club after his Arsenal future seemed every bit as uncertain.

Like Mustafi, the Swiss international midfielder has emerged as one of Arteta’s rocks in recent weeks.

Bukayo Saka and Alexandre Lacazette might have claimed the goals which keep Arsenal in with an outside chance of a top-five finish.

But it was the game management, determination and attention to detail which led  to this impressive victory.

Arteta added: “Granit was pivotal to the result today. Him and Dani Ceballos dictated the game really well.”

After Leicester tomorrow night it is Spurs, Liverpool and then
Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-final.

Arteta said: “It’s clear that we have to rotate the players to protect them.

“So whoever is available is welcome and we will use him.”

And it seems that no one is more welcome than Mustafi right now.

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