Just when you think that Arsenal have assumed an air of stability around their defense, they go and do something like Sunday. The Gunners' collective performance against Roy Hodgson's high-flying Crystal Palace was not too bad. After all, even champions Manchester City know how breathtakingly fast Palace can be on the counter, and Arsenal's players must have been mindful of that fact too, but it was the utter inability to deal with such scenarios that would pain Arsenal fans everywhere.
After displaying a modicum of mediocrity throughout the first half, Arsenal can count themselves lucky for having gone only 1-0 behind. Palace's Christian Benteke, who had not scored for 19 games running, had a brilliant chance to add to his first goal just before half time. The amount of space afforded to the Palace striker was nothing short of nightmarish, but Unai Emery would have been pleased to get away with it.
The dysfunctionality of the team was arrested by the Spanish manager at half-time and his two substitutes seemed to have sprung the team back into life. The first 15 minutes of the second half was simply majestic from an Arsenal point of view, and they scored the much-deserved equalizer, only for their defense to once again go off the rails and concede a completely avoidable goal.
Palace's Wilfred Zaha, who had troubled the Arsenal defense all evening, latched onto a simple long ball when in fact Arsenal's Shkodran Mustafi had more than enough time and space to deal with it. The resulting shot from Zaha could not be saved by Leno, and after all the hard work Emery's team had put into the second half to bring the team level, a schoolboyish defensive mistake by one of its most inconsistent players had once again become the reason for Arsenal's undoing.What would probably annoy Arsenal fans even more than Mustafi's propensity for creating goalscoring situations for the opposition out of nowhere, is his absolute denial when it comes to taking the blame. Anyone who has watched Arsenal this season, or even the season before, knows that the German defender is prone to game-changing mistakes. It is an element of his game that he seems to have no control over, and while earlier there seemed to be a possibility of chalking them out of his game, we now know that is simply wishful thinking. But what's worse is his willingness to blame everyone but himself for his catastrophic errors. Every single time without fail, Mustafi tries to blame his teammates for what are his mistakes, and although there seemed to be a modicum of level-headedness the season before, Arsenal fans have simply had enough.
Mustafi and the defense were once again to blame when Arsenal gifted a third goal to Crystal Palace from a set-piece. It was too much to recover from. Although Arsenal's attack tried to salvage the situation, with its leading goal-scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang managing to get one back for the Gunners, it was too little too late.
After the game, Emery rued the defensive mistakes his team committed but everyone knew who was to blame. Arsenal had managed to keep six clean sheets in the last seven games, with Mustafi not playing as a center-back in most of those triumphs, so when Arsenal concede three goals at home in such comical fashion, it is easy to see how a corrective measure over the summer could make this team better.
This is not to say that all of Arsenal's defensive issues will go away once Mustafi is replaced, which, in itself, is a difficult task considering potential buyers will have watched him as well this season, but stupid, utterly avoidable mistakes committed by the Arsenal defense will definitely reduce.
The fear, however, is that Mustafi might cost Arsenal more than that. If his defensive mistakes cost the team a Champions League place, I don't see many Arsenal fans being able to forgive him ever. But with Sokratis' suspension coming to an end and Koscielny managing match-fitness, it would be wise if Emery somehow keeps Mustafi's shadow away from the first-team for the rest of the season.
After all, Arsenal's defense can't get any more worst, right?