Shkodran Mustafi | In my own words

We’re only human and we can't switch off our brains, it's always going to be there. Once you've read criticism – good or bad – it's going to stay there.

When I came to Arsenal in 2016, the season was already going. I arrived and played my first game against Southampton. We won in the last minute - I think we scored from a penalty in that game – and then played Paris Saint-Germain away in the Champions League and then Chelsea at home.

They were tough games but I went for it and we played very well in all of those matches. We drew in Paris, we won against Chelsea and then there were loads of good games after that.

Musti's first day as an Arsenal player

It was a very good period because it made everything so much easier for me to settle in when things were going well, when the team is winning and when you can be part of that team. 

Of course when you start off so well, it’s hard not to get carried away. At the end of the day, things are going well for a reason, so you have to keep working and improving. Only then will you be able to keep winning the games. This is an important thing.

In this period you shouldn't think, 'Now everything's going to be easy' and then you stop doing what you were doing before. I think the main thing is to continue doing your work, continue putting everything in, continue trying to improve and then you can continue winning games. 

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.

For people who look from the outside, they only see this particular scene where this error happens and then they're angry at you. You become nervous yourself because you don't want to make these errors again. It was difficult at this time to handle all the pressure.

As a central defender you have this pressure anyway, but then you make this mistake and suddenly the pressure becomes even more. To handle this pressure is not always easy. As a central defender you have to do your job perfectly to just have a normal game.

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.

It affects you, too. After the game of course you're disappointed because nobody is happy making mistakes, but when I made one and we conceded a goal from it, I would go into the dressing room and I'd be disappointed to let my team-mates down. This is the first thing.

You look at each of the players and think, 'OK, they worked so hard and one of my mistakes made us lose the game'. 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.

You’ve also got to deal with 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. When things are going well, it's easy to read those comments and like what you read. It gives you confidence but you have to be careful not to get carried away because you still have to stay professional. 

Then 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. It's so much easier when things are going well because when you're reading comments you don't like, you have to go out and play and you've got those comments in your head.

I managed to try to block it out a little bit. I was not that active on social media and  wasn't reading comments, I wasn't too concerned about social media, I just wanted to go back on the pitch and give everything because I knew that in this moment I was not playing the football I know I could play. 

I was just talking with the closest people around me like my family, my parents, my wife, my kids, and this helped me to forget about everything. In the morning when I was coming to training, I would just focus on the training and then go back home to spend time with my family. I tried not to read too much stuff that people were saying.

Did I feel like a target at times? I wouldn't say 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. 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. 

It gets a little bit frustrating to read those comments but at the end of the day, you have to be professional and I tried to be as professional as I can. Sometimes you read comments and you really disagree, and you want to say something but then you just leave it because you want to stay professional. 

The next day you've got training so you've just got to take all that energy and just use it on training and trying to improve yourself, rather than just on social media.

One thing my wife said to me which helped me a lot was, 'You always have to remember where you come from and where you arrived now because it wasn't just luck. There was a lot of hard work, a lot of difficult decisions, a lot of sweat that brought you here. There's a reason why you're here at the moment so just keep going and doing what you know you can do'. 

And that’s the main advice I have for anyone who's receiving criticism: to listen to those closest to you. They're always going to tell you the truth and if it's going good or bad, they're always going to be there for you.

This season I've been playing mainly in the Europa League and the cup competitions, so I've focused just on doing my job and trying to produce things that the coaching staff ask for me to do on the pitch to show that I'm ready for the team. No matter what's going on, I've just been trying to work and become the player that I was before - and better.

I focused myself really and I've put everything in every day on the training pitch. When I go home, I want to be able to say to my family, 'I gave everything at training today and I'm ready for whichever game is coming up. I'm ready to put 100 per cent in'. That was the main thing for me. I just wanted to focus on not making errors, on staying concentrated for 90 minutes and get all the confidence back that I had when I arrived here.

I think the fans have seen that too. 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. I just worked my socks off to come back again. 

I think the fans have seen in the last few games that I've played that I'm someone who has always tried to give everything on the pitch. Of course, I made mistakes like everyone else makes because we are professionals but we are humans first. 

Nobody makes errors because they like to, it's just something that happens. I've always wanted to win and give everything for Arsenal, for my team-mates. I think they appreciate that. 

Next for me and the club is to bounce back. At the moment things are not going the way we want them to go. It's going to be tough but I think we have the mental strength and the quality as a team to bounce back and to win the games we need to. 

It's a bit like it was in my situation where for me, things were not going very well. 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. 

It's the only way we're going to improve. It's not a time to point fingers at each other, we have to work together to bounce back and hopefully we're going to enjoy the rest of the season. 

Shkodran Mustafi

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