Shkodran urges fellow Arsenal defenders to stay focused against Chelsea

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Arsenal’s defence must not shoot themselves in the foot in the Europa League final against Chelsea after an error-prone season in the Premier League, according to Shkodran Mustafi.

The Gunners’ defending was calamitous at times in 2018-19 and Mustafi, one of the culprits, insists it was merely down to teething problems under new manager Unai Emery.

The statistics show how no Premier League club made more errors leading to shots or goals than Arsenal as they attempted to get to grips with Emery’s system.

Now, Mustafi says he and his team-mates are determined not to let it cost them their chance of Champions League qualification when they face Chelsea on Wednesday night.

“It’s going to be a game where one mistake punishes you and that’s why we’ve got to be very careful,” Mustafi said ahead of their showdown at Baku’s Olympic Stadium.

“Our job as defenders is to try not to concede goals, but if you make 90 per cent of your job and in the 10 per cent the opponent scores a goal, people forget about the 90 per cent. If in the end of the season you made 70 points, it is for a reason. If you go into the game without the defence and only with attacking players, I am not sure you are going to make 70 points.”

“At the end of the day, even when we try to play out of the back, people say, ‘Why are they doing this? Why aren’t they just kicking it out from the back? But that is not our game. The coach prefers that we make mistakes but still played our game instead of just playing anything so he cannot identify us with the game we were supposed to be playing.”

“You want to finish the game knowing you did this, this, this and that is why you won the game. Rather that saying, ‘How the hell did we win that, because we were bad…”

“That will not bring you consistency. You are not going to get away with just playing and hoping you win. You are not going to win without an identity and that was how we wanted to play.”

That ‘identity’ saw Arsenal finish fifth in the Premier League, two points shy of Chelsea. That is despite the Gunners scoring 10 goals more than their London rivals in the top flight. Mustafi says Arsenal are inexperienced when it comes to finals compared to Chelsea but believes that can actually act as an advantage rather than a disadvantage.

“In our team not a lot of players have played in a club level final like this, so for us it is huge,” he said. “You can tell me what you think. A lot of players, experienced, who have played a lot of finals or a team which is motivated for their first game. It depends how you see it. I think it’s more positive when you have no experience because you go there, you are looking forward to it. It’s a final, you give everything and you are looking forward to win it. For us it’s more positive than negative.”

“Winning a trophy is very important because that is what you are counting at the end of your career. You are not counting how many balls you have kicked – you are counting how many trophies you won, so that’s huge.”

Mustafi, whose campaign has been dogged by multiple defensive blunders, said: ‘It’s going to be a game where one mistake punishes you and that’s why we’ve got to be very careful.

“However, when we try to play out from the back, people say, ‘Why aren’t they just kicking it out? But that is not our game. The coach prefers that we make mistakes but still play our game. You are not going to win without an identity and this is how we want to play.”

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