Arsenal: Sokratis needs to learn from his predecessor

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 13: Fernando Llorente of Tottenham Hotspur and Sokratis Papastathopoulos of Borussia Dortmund battle for possession during the UEFA Champions League group H match between Tottenham Hotspur and Borussia Dortmund at Wembley Stadium on September 13, 2017 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)
Arsenal are set to sign Borussia Dortmund centre-half Sokratis Papastathopoulos. The Greek defender must learn from his predecessor’s mistakes, Shkodran Mustafi.
It seems as though Arsenal are set to make their first signing of the post-Arsene Wenger era. And it is quite an un-Wenger signing. Per a wide-range of reports, the Gunners are close to finalising a £16 million deal for Borussia Dortmund defender and Greek international Sokratis Papastathopoulos.
It is a deal that makes a whole lot of sense. Sokratis has just one year remaining on his current contract and Dortmund are looking to recoup some semblance of value for one of their better players; with Laurent Koscielny out injured and only a series of young, unproven or unconvincing options left in the squad, Arsenal, with a stringent budget, are in need of an experienced defender on the cheap. It just adds up.
But there is a problem, and it’s quite a big one. Simply, Sokratis hasn’t been very good. The now 29-year-old was at the heart of a poor Dortmund defence that conceded 47 goals in 34 Bundesliga games. And he was part of the problem. Rash and overly-aggressive in his decision making, mistake-riddled throughout the year, inconsistent distribution, poor positional play. These were all characteristics of his game last season.
As a physical specimen, there are few players in world football as imposing and impressive as Sokratis. He is tall, striding, strong, powerful in the air, dominant in the tackle and deceptively quick across the ground. But between the ears, he is lacking. Does that remind you of anyone at all?
Shkodran Mustafi is also the perfect centre-half in regards his physical and technical capabilities, save few inches in the height department that Sokratis possesses at 6-foot-3. But, like Sokratis, his struggles come in his mind. His decision-making, his lapses in concentration, his poor marking, his lack of awareness of danger, his naivety in throwing himself to ground.
I am not trying to say that Sokratis is a poor player. I may not be as enamoured with his impending signing as some others — I do think for £16 million, he is an astute and economical purchase, but I would rather have seen a greater investment in a more accomplished centre-half. But I do believe that if he can learn from his predecessor, Mustafi, then he has a chance to be a viable and solid central defender.
The issue for Mustafi is that he hasn’t developed his game from when he arrived. He is still the same rash, slightly unhinged but undoubtedly talented player that he always was. Patience is beginning to wear thin. But if Sokratis can arrive and progress where Mustafi has failed to, then I do think that he can address his flaws and improve.
He is not the polished article, which is somewhat concerning given his age. But he has shown his capabilities in previous years and the kind of flaws are improvable even as he traverses the dreaded 30-year mark. However, that requires learning, learning from Mustafi. If he goes down the same path, Sokratis will not be a successful acquisition.


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