Arsenal defender Shkodran Mustafi has laughed off the suggestion that he is the ‘second-worst defender in world football’.
The German was selected in a poll by Marca, voted for by over 150,000 people, as the second-worst defensive player of the season, behind Manchester United’s Phil Jones.
While Mustafi admitted his form has suffered in the past year, he stated that the online poll does not bother him.
“In the first two years after my move to Arsenal in 2016, things went very well for me,” Mustafi told German outlet Speigel.
“But shortly after Christmas 2018 there was a kink. I've made a few mistakes and they've created a mess that I've never experienced before.”
One game in particular where Mustafi endured a torrid night was during a 5-1 defeat to Liverpool in December 2018, but the centre-back has revealed he was not fit to play in that encounter and only featured as a favour to manager Unai Emery.
“I had missed three weeks injured and then went into the game without training with the team because the coach needed me,” he said.
“At half-time it was 4-1, I had a few bad moments and injured myself again. Afterwards, I got a lot of negative comments from Arsenal fans on Instagram and Twitter, and articles were written in which I was harshly criticised.
“I'm self-critical enough to realise that I made mistakes,” he added. “I can also deal with tough criticism. But the criticism has become escalated and irrational. I have become a target. At some point, people even blamed me for a defeat I had not played in at all.”
Despite Mustafi’s poor recent showings, the former Valencia man has said he still believes in his own ability.
“There were days when I really doubted something about myself. But at some point I realised that I am mentally strong.
“Something my wife said helped me a lot: ‘If you were really as bad as people are making you out, you would never have been a world champion and Arsenal player, something must have brought you here’. Since then I can handle it better.”
Much of the criticism aimed at the Germany international has come from social media and Mustafi believes many football fans only use the online platforms to poke fun at players.
“Football has become more inhumane,” he said. “Social media has also contributed to this, because anyone can comment, without names. People can unload their frustrations directly on us.
“It is no longer about the sport, but only to discredit someone to get as many likes as possible. I would like to see more restrictions in the future. What's on the internet will never disappear. And I'm worried that this will eventually affect my children.”