The youngsters of rsenal have rightly received a lot of praise for their role in the Gunners’ rebirth under Mikel Arteta, but behind them Pablo Mari has become an unsung hero.
Just as Emile Smith Rowe seized his chance against Chelsea, Mari did the same with Gabriel Magalhaes and David Luiz – and now the center-back is a contender to hold onto his place.
“We had to throw him out because we had injuries, suspensions and it probably wasn’t even fair to him because he missed a lot of football last year,” Arteta said.
“But he’s a leader. He’s someone who trains really hard, he’s really professional.
“He’s an excellent communicator in the field and he gives you a certain security, a certain stability.
“He did very well with Rob [Holding], it was really good again on Saturday with David [Luiz]. Three clean sheets in a row and he fully deserves his chance to play.
With Mari in the camp, Arsenal have conceded just one goal in their last four games and the Spaniard has brought a calming presence to the defense.
His prowess in the air has been a noticeable bonus, but his ball ability is also solid and he seems comfortable playing from behind.
The fact that Mari is left-handed also put his strengths to good use and he provided balance when playing alongside either Holding or Luiz.
Arteta always wanted one of his center-backs to have a left foot, to help change the game faster from either flank, and Mari has shown he is a real competition for Gabriel.
Mari has become a leader in Arsenal’s defense.
/ Arsenal FC via .)
There are weaknesses in his game, especially when he’s dragged out of position and challenged to defend one-on-one against an opponent. His late tackle on Mateo Kovacic in the win over Chelsea is proof of that.
But when he is part of a unit, of a solid structure, Mari is incredibly efficient and his performances bring back memories of Per Mertesacker.
It might be the Spaniard’s long walk that does this, but his game has some similarities. Mertesacker was another who shone in a solid unit, but when dragged down to defend one-on-one, his lack of pace could be on display.
The German has also been hailed for being a leader off the pitch and Arteta praised Mari for that; explaining that he was present on the training ground even during his layoff for injury.
“He’s really positive,” Arteta said. “When he wasn’t playing, when he was injured, when he was playing, he was always the same person, trying to help everyone.
“He’s really professional, really keen to improve himself, to be his best all the time in any capacity and any role. He is rewarded for his attitude.
Mari was praised for her positive influence on the training ground.
/ Arsenal FC via .)
It hasn’t been an easy first year in England for Mari, who arrived at Arsenal around the same time last year on a loan deal worth around £ 4million. He was then made permanent for an additional £ 8million, but Covid-19 and his injuries kept him from really justifying why the Gunners paid that sum.
Now, however, Mari is starting to show why Flamengo fans were so devastated to see him go last year.
The 27-year-old was the rock of the Brazilian club at the back and helped them win the Copa Libertadores – the South American version of the Champions League.
Mari still has a long way to go to make a similar impact at Arsenal, but promising signs are emerging of a slow start.