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  • By Alessandro Schiavone at VELTINS Arena, Gelsenkirchen

Three things we learned about erratic Arsenal defender Mavropanos in Stuttgart defeat

By Alessandro Schiavone in Gelsenkirchen

Bundesliga: Schalke 04 2-1 VFB Stuttgart

WHAT did we learn about Arsenal loanee Kostas Mavropanos as VFB Stuttgart missed a glaring opportunity to create a three-point cushion between themselves and the relegation zone after coming up short in a six-pointer clash at Schalke 04? Crucially with maximum points, the 2007 Bundesliga champions would have had a nine-point advantage over Schalke instead of only three. Yet Die Schwaben are now starting to anxiously look over their shoulders and Greek centre-back Mavropanos is not completely blameless for lots of things that went wrong yesterday.

So how did he play and what conclusions have we come to?

Lacks defensive grit and concentration at times

Four goalless draws prior to yesterday’s game were testament to Schalke 04’s new-found defensive solidity, which had a downside effect: it clipped their wings going forward. But things finally fell into place as the fallen Ruhr region giants stunniningly scored twice within 30 minutes. That’s as many as in their last TEN games combined. But despite the vital victory, they are still staring consecutive Bundesliga relegations in the face. Yet it boosts your confidence that you can do it when you face defenders that fail to turn up for the occasion. And with the unreliable Mavropanos patrolling Stuttgart’s backline, the home side really fancied their chances. And he was at fault for Stuttgart's second goal. While he could have done better to prevent Dominick Drexler’s headed opener from Michael Frey’s cross, it’s Marius Bülter's sensational, yet avoidable backheel flick that he should be held accountable for. Why did he not stick his boot out? Why did he not attack the ball? Why was he so far away from Schalke’s centre-forward? Why did he not anticipate the move? Sure, Borna Sosa was left trailing too easily by Rodrigo Zalazar. But the Arsenal misfit had to handle the situation much better than what he did. He defended like a rookie and was beaten to the low cross way too cheaply.

A dangerous over-confidence but a good amount personality after things turned sour

While his marking ability is not exactly akin to that of legendary Greece Euro 2004 winner Traianos Dellas, he is far from being a Leonardo Bonucci when playing out from deep and carrying the ball forward either. In the 38t minute, he drove forward through the central areas before overhitting his pass to Endo Wataru, who failed to control it. One minute later, he also caught got in possession in his own half as he attempted to burst past two Schalke players. Luckily the Koenigsblauen no longer have deadly centre-forwards like Kuranyi, Ailton and Mpenza up-front. Mavropanos’ performance picked up after tea time with the introduction of Dan-Axel Zagadou to replace his partner Hiroki at the heart of the defence. But it wasn’t really possible for it to get any worse anyway. Credit to the loaned-out Gunner as on more than one occasion, he took the wind out of Schalke’s sails with some well-timed challenges. Besides, he oozed personality and also didn’t shirk responsibility when Stuttgart were in the doldrums. Midway through the second period, he boldly tried to catch Ralf Fahrmann out from distance as the visitors were chasing a second goal. That showed that he has a good amount of self-confidence. But on the basis of what he delivered in the opening period, his performance cannot be ranked as sufficient. He was just too sloppy, insecure and with too many mistakes in him which may end up costing Stuttgart in their relegation battle.

Verdict: no Arsenal material

While he can hold his own in a team fighting against the drop in the Bundesliga (if he remains fully concentrated), the consensus is that he will never have what it takes to be part of Arsenal’s XI. He just doesn’t have the pace, tactical astuteness and positional sense. At 25, it’s too late to learn certain basics and get rid of your flaws. No matter how hard you try to eradicate them, at some stage they will always reappear. Hence with Gabriel Magalhaes and William Saliba forming a rock solid partnership in Arteta’s Premier League-chasing side, it’s highly unlikely he’d make the bench, let alone get into the team. Yesterday was just too much of a red flag, his performance raised questions about his top-level competitiveness. Besides, big teams are big teams because the difference between starters and substitutes is minimal. However it’s clear that the gulf between the Greek and the current Arsenal regulars is palpably disproportionate.

With hindsight, it's an inescapable fact that the Greek was one of the least efficient signings of the Edu era. And you cannot ignore the similarities with the golden Arsene Wenger years. Whenever Tony Adams or Sol Campbell were suspended or crocked and replaced by Oleh Luzhny, Gunners fans feared the worst. Surely it would only take Mavropanos’ presence in place of either the Brazilian or Frenchman for old ghosts to reappear…

However all things considered, he is good enough to play at a lower-table Bundesliga side.


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