The Gunners are set to finalise a loan move for the Flamengo centre-back that will include an option to buy in the summer – but where will he fit in?
Arsenal’s priority throughout this transfer window has been to bring in a left-sided centre-back.
The main focus has been on Flamengo’s Pablo Mari, who will soon put pen to paper on a loan deal until the end of the season, and Mykola Matviyenko, the Ukraine international at Shakhtar Donetsk.
Matviyenko ultimately proved far too expensive for this window, with the affordable Mari the far more attractive option for the north London club.
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- Arteta, Mourinho and Lampard need excruciating patience in this new age of the super clubArsenal have agreed to pay Flamengo £4.25m ($5.5m) to take the 26-year-old Spaniard on loan but with the option to make the transfer permanent in the summer if they wish.
Mari’s arrival will solve a problem for head coach Mikel Arteta, who has seen his options stretched at centre-back ever since Calum Chambers ruptured the cruciate ligament in his left knee in the game against Chelsea last month.
Chambers will not play again this season and there were fears Shkodran Mustafi could join him on the long-term injury list when he was stretchered off against Bournemouth on Monday night.
Scans, however, has shown that the German only suffered a sprain and could be back as soon as the game with Newcastle United after the mid-season break.
That will mean Arteta will head into the final months of the season with five centre-backs to choose from in Mari, Mustafi, David Luiz, Sokratis and Rob Holding.
Consequently, it will be interesting to see how the Spanish coach makes use of that quintet when all are fully fit.
Having won the Copa Libertadores with Flamengo in November, he has played just three games since – two of which came in the Club World Cup last month, against Al Hilal and Liverpool. So, fitness could initially be an issue.
However, once he is up to speed, the likelihood is that Arteta will want to use him alongside David Luiz as the left-sided centre-back, although that would mean the Brazilian switching over to the right-hand side.
Having centre-backs who are comfortable with the ball at their feet is key to how Arteta wants Arsenal to play and Mari’s passing ability is one of his key strengths.
Lining up in a flat back four, he will work closely with Granit Xhaka, who will often drop deep to fill in as a third centre-back alongside Mari and Luiz, especially when the left-back – whether it be Bukayo Saka, Sead Kolasinac or Kieran Tierney – moves forward to support the attack.
Arteta also likes his centre-backs to be able to play diagonal balls to the wingers. Luiz is comfortable in that regard and Mari possesses an excellent range of long passing, which should see him fit in well at Emirates Stadium.
Mari is also viewed as an organiser, someone who reads the game exceptionally well. He arrived in Brazil from Manchester City in July last year and transformed the Flamengo defence in a matter of months.
“I’ve been droning on about him to anyone who will listen because I think Manchester City missed a beat with this one,” South American football expert Tim Vickery told TalkSport.
“He was unknown, he came in very cold and was thrown in at the deep end, but he sorted it out for them (Flamengo) absolutely magnificently.
“For me, in that side that coasted its way to the Brazilian championship, won the South American title and gave Liverpool a game in the Club World Cup final, I think he was the most important player.
“He’s by no way the most glamorous, but that front four with all the goals being scored by Gabriel Barbosa and Bruno Henrique, it wouldn’t have worked had the team not been able to defend with a high line – and Pablo Mari was the man behind all of that, he was superb.”
As well as adding some quality to the defensive areas, Mari will also be a threat in the opposition box. He is very good in the air and attacks set pieces very well. The Spaniard scored three goals in 28 appearances for Flamengo last season.
“Pablo does well with aerial balls,” commented Goal Brazil journalist Bruno Andrade. “He had a great season with Flamengo. Defensively, he helped improve them a lot and he deserves a lot of credit.”
The success Mari enjoyed in Brazil having arrived as a relative unknown from Manchester City was huge and Arteta will be hoping the centre-back can have a similar sort of impact at Arsenal over the coming months as the Gunners set their sights on the FA Cup and Europa League.