Shkodran Mustafi concedes he has struggled to handle the pressure of criticism that followed some high-profile mistakes for Arsenal.
Germany international defender Mustafi joined the Gunners from Valencia in 2016 but his form has dwindled over recent campaigns.
This term, the 27-year-old has predominantly been used in the Europa League and EFL Cup, although Calum Chambers being out for the season and Konstantinos Mavropanos joining Nurnberg on loan means he could be granted opportunities to add to a solitary Premier League start.
“I just put my head down when all the criticism came at me and worked hard. I just closed my ears and focused on the work, and I think the fans kind of appreciated that,” Mustafi said in an interview with Arsenal’s official website. “I just worked my socks off to come back again.
“When the fans are on your side, it gives you so much more confidence. As a defender, it’s always difficult because you always have pressure, especially when you don’t have the ball and the opponents are attacking. Every little mistake and every little error you make can lead to a goal.
“When you win all your tackles, when you win everything on the pitch but then make one mistake that you’re punished for, it destroys everything that you did before. This is something that makes this position so hard.
“You blame yourself a lot. I am quite harsh on myself as well when I make mistakes. This is something you have to learn to deal with because the next day you’re straight back in training and you’re focusing on not making the same mistake again.
“It’s something that affected me but I had to deal with it because I didn’t want to make the same mistake again, I wanted to come to the training ground and show them that I am going to be there for them, I am going to be there for the team, I am going to be there for the supporters.”
— Shkodran Mustafi (@MustafiOfficial) January 13, 2020
Mustafi felt such scrutiny became harshly magnified by social media.
“On there, it’s difficult to handle when things are going well and then when things are not working out it’s even tougher,” he said.
“When things aren’t going well, obviously you don’t like the stuff you read. You don’t agree with a lot of comments, so it makes it difficult.”
Even though he believes criticism directed towards him became too strong at times, Mustafi does not want to be viewed as a scapegoat and feels he and the club have common challenges to address.
“I wouldn’t say [I was] a target because it’s very hard if you say that. I don’t think the world turns around me or that I’m the main point of the world,” he said.
“But it was difficult sometimes to understand because even in a few bad games where I wasn’t involved, I was the one to blame.”
Listen & Learn We keep fighting pic.twitter.com/pmN7oyz3XY
— Shkodran Mustafi (@MustafiOfficial) November 6, 2019
He added: “Next for me and the club is to bounce back. At the moment things are not going the way we want them to go.
“We just need to stay united as a team, a club, with our fans. The people who want the best for Arsenal, we have to stay united together and bounce back together.”
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