How Mustafi and co have become Arsenal's new Invincibles

This time last year, only one player from the Premier League's leading clubs could still claim to be unbeaten, having played 10 games or more in all competitions. His name was Christian Fuchs, and he would go on to win the title.

Fuchs' unbeaten record was aided by the fact that, actually, he spent the first two months of the season as second choice left back to Jeffrey Schlupp - missing the 5-2 home loss to Arsenal as a result. At Arsenal this season, it's rather different. Four players still remain unbeaten, and three of them have started almost every single league game they've been available for.

Alexis Sanchez may have taken all the headlines on Saturday, and deservedly so, for his hat-trick in the 5-1 win at West Ham. But his unbeaten record went on the very first day of the season, when he started in the 4-3 home loss to Liverpool. The four unbeaten Gunners - the 2016/17 Invincibles, at least for now - are Shkodran Mustafi, Mesut Ozil, Laurent Koscielny and, er, Olivier Giroud.

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Of the Premier League's current leading lights, Liverpool defender Joel Matip is the only other member of the undefeated club, having missed the 4-3 loss at Bournemouth that wiped out the unbeaten records of Sadio Mane, Emre Can and Loris Karius.

Mustafi has delivered what Arsenal paid for

Matches unbeaten

Mesut Ozil (Arsenal) 18

Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal) 18

Shkodran Mustafi (Arsenal) 16

Joel Matip (Liverpool) 13

Olivier Giroud (Arsenal) 11

Shkodran Mustafi joined Arsenal from Valencia on August 30. By that stage, he'd actually already lost for Los Che - he'd appeared as a half time substitute in a 4-2 home defeat to Las Palmas, when Valencia were already 3-2 down.

He made his Gunners debut in a 2-1 win over Southampton on September 10, and the club's £35m centre back signing has now played 16 times for Arsenal and lost exactly none of those matches. He was rested when Arsene Wenger's side when Southampton this time triumphed at the Emirates in the League Cup last week, the club's only loss since that opening day reverse to Liverpool.

The German international has delivered exactly what Arsenal paid for - a series of solid defensive performances, and leadership abilities too. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain pointed out after the 5-1 win at West Ham that Mustafi had been among those shouting at team-mates, urging them to retain focus, even when the game appeared won. Every good side needs players like that.

Mustafi has undoubtedly proved to be an upgrade on Per Mertesacker and Gabriel Paulista, who both started often alongside Laurent Koscielny at centre back last season. Gabriel was the man in central defence when the Gunners drew 3-3 at West Ham last term, and very nearly lost. Arsenal were as dangerous in attack that day as they were at the London Stadium on Saturday, but their defence cost them points.

"We were all over the field last year too," Slaven Bilic admitted, as he reflected on West Ham's two recent encounters with the Gunners. "It was 2-0 and very likely to be 3-0. Then Andy Carroll brought us back into the game."

Carroll scored a hat-trick that day, having an astonishing 10 shots during the match. This time he wasn't quite fit enough to start, and Arsenal fared rather better against the inexperienced Ashley Fletcher.

"We had a stronger defensive performance this time," Wenger declared, putting last season's Upton Park horror show firmly in the past. Mustafi was as commanding as ever, making seven clearances and winning six of seven aerial duels - the most of anyone on the field. As a result, Arsenal romped to a handsome victory.

Ozil is focusing more on goals, not assists

Mesut Ozil missed Arsenal's opening day loss to Liverpool after being given extra time off following Germany's run to the Euro 2016 semi finals, but is unbeaten in the 18 games he's played since then. Seventeen of those matches have been as a starter - he came on as a sub at Leicester in the Gunners' second game of the season.

Ozil's goal at West Ham on Saturday was his eighth of the season, meaning that he has already matched his tally for the whole of the 2015/16 campaign. Then, he provided 19 Premier League assists during the course of the season, including a stunning 16 by the end of December. This time he has only two assists - the second of them coming when he set up Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's goal against the Hammers.

Ozil has linked up more closely with Alexis Sanchez this season, with the Chilean moved into the striker's role. All four of Ozil's Premier League goals this term, including his strike at the London Stadium, have come from Sanchez assists. With the duo both finding the net regularly, the Gunners have scored 33 goals in 14 Premier League matches - compared to only 24 at the same stage last term.

Koscielny relishing captain's role

With Per Mertesacker absent with a knee injury and unlikely to return to the starting line-up when he's fit again, Laurent Koscielny has taken over the captain's armband for the Gunners.

Arsene Wenger admitted recently that the defender has not always been the most vocal of players, and yet Koscielny was another of the players that Oxlade-Chamberlain revealed had barked instructions throughout the West Ham game to keep his team-mates focused.

Like Ozil, Koscielny missed the opening game of the season against Liverpool following his commitments at Euro 2016, but the Frenchman has started every league match since then and is now unbeaten in 18 games this term - 16 of them alongside his new central defensive partner Mustafi.

Koscielny made seven key clearances when Arsenal didn't play well but dug out a point at Manchester United, and he won five of his six aerial duels at West Ham.

Giroud's role has been crucial (yes, really)

True, so far this has been far from the finest season of Olivier Giroud's career. But despite that, he's still undefeated. Giroud also missed the Liverpool defeat and injury ruled him out of the League Cup loss to Southampton. The striker's unbeaten streak stands at 11 matches this season.

The Giroud sceptics might argue that the Frenchman's lack of defeats is largely down to the fact that he's no longer in the Arsenal starting line-up, missing costly chances that the Gunners ultimately pay for at the other end. He's yet to start a single game in the Premier League, getting the nod only twice in the Champions League.

But that would be overlooking the fact that, were it not for Giroud, not one Arsenal player could claim to be unbeaten this season. It was Giroud who came off the bench to score the crucial 89th-minute equaliser at Manchester United - ensuring that Mustafi, Ozil and Koscielny all remain invincible. He put the Gunners back on level terms at Ludogorets Razgrad too, netting the leveller after they'd gone 2-0 down.

So really, when you think about it, this whole thing has been down to Giroud. Chapeau, Olivier, chapeau.

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Chris Flanagan
Staff Writer

Chris joined FourFourTwo in 2015 and has reported from 20 countries, in places as varied as Jerusalem and the Arctic Circle. He's interviewed Pele, Zlatan and Santa Claus (it's a long story), as well as covering Euro 2020 and the Clasico. He previously spent 10 years as a newspaper journalist, and completed the 92 in 2017.