Pablo Mari is edging closer to full fitness at Arsenal.
In preparation for Mikel Arteta’s first full season at Arsenal, things were supposed to go differently. A thoroughly underwhelming campaign had culminated in a surprising but much-needed FA Cup triumph, and with the additional transfer funds that brought, the Gunners invested considerably in defensive areas.
As a result, there was significant initial improvement in the rearguard and our defensive record was one of the best in the division. However, with the situation deteriorating rapidly in recent weeks, as well as our concerning form of late, perhaps the time has come to reintroduce our forgotten man, Pablo Mari.
It’s fair to say that Mari has not exactly captured our hearts since his arrival. The Spaniard arrived as a relative unknown from Flamengo, with his only previous claim to fame in England being an unspectacular stint at Manchester City. In addition, the fact that we were signing such a low-key player for a modest fee, in an area that has troubled us for years, meant that we were always going to be sceptical about what he had to offer.
Mari’s arrival has been further hampered by injury and he has only completed two full 90 minutes for Arsenal this calendar year. Also, the circulation of rumours during the summer suggesting the club was about £10m short of Lyon’s valuation for Houssem Aouar has generated some anger among fans.
With the money involved in the signing, the impact he has had so far (or lack thereof), and considering the number of centre-backs already at Arsenal, Mari’s seemingly pointless arrival has been interpreted as a potential reason for our failure to sign a creative midfielder in the transfer window.
Despite the growing animosity, and after nearly six months out of action, Mari completed 45 minutes of an Under-23’s Premier League 2 match recently and is expected to soon be back in contention. It is fair to say that the many obstacles the Spaniard has had to overcome thus far have tempered our expectations, but nevertheless I think he has all the necessary attributes to establish himself in the team.
The former Flamengo man is comfortable in possession, has a fantastic range of passing, and although he is not the fastest of defenders, his positional play and concentration allow him to gain the upper hand in defensive scenarios.
Of all the issues festering in the side at the moment, one of the more hard-pressing problems has been the lack of natural ball progressors. Only David Luiz has been capable of completing defence-splitting diagonal passes in recent matches, and the Brazilian’s half-time substitutions against both Leicester and Wolves had a noticeable impact on our creative play.
With Luiz having a number of injury issues of his own this season, not to mention his unreliability at the best of times, there is a desperate need for a composed, ball-playing defender at the back. Could Mari be the one to take up the mantle, even if it means playing two left-footed central defenders?