For the last few days, the name Pablo Mari has filled my timeline and news stream. Maybe not as much as people want to fill it with the name Thomas Partey and how simple it will be for us to sign him, but Mari’s presence has been noted. Reports of his desire to seal his future with Arsenal were combined with a recent bit of attention from Arsenal’s marketing thrusting him into the spotlight. He made an appearance on arsenal.com for a segment of “Ask Me Anything”, answering people’s questions on Reddit, and he topped it all off with a recent interview in The Guardian where he addressed his future.
Mari didn’t answer many serious questions on Reddit, but was asked about his “first impressions of the club” when he joined:
“I was feeling like I am in a historical and traditional club. I already knew it’s a big club because when you are young and you see the Premier League you always look at Arsenal like an unbelievable team. But you only know how big Arsenal is when you come inside. I feel like I’ve improved a lot in myself and can improve with this club to be a better player. So I am feeling really well when I signed the loan with Arsenal and I hope I can extend this to permanent with them because I am ready to fight together with Arsenal.”
In a more serious interview with Sid Lowe, Mari walked through his brief time at Arsenal. From feeling awestruck at having “made it”, to accepting the season needed to come to a halt on behalf of people’s health – despite having made his first appearances and wanting to keep playing.
“At first, part of you thinks: ‘Jeez,’ I finally got here, then had to leave again after two days to finish negotiating the contract, came back, it was hard to get going, I hadn’t done pre-season while everyone had been competing seven months. Bit by bit you get through the days, the weeks, and the moment you say ‘I’m ready, I can compete’, this happens …”
“The first thought was: ‘Damn, I wanted to keep playing.’ But this is no small thing; it’s not a cold or flu. When you see its magnitude, professional questions are secondary. What matters is everyone’s health.
It’s understandable why he feels this way. Mari played two games during his short time with Arsenal – two wins, two clean sheets against Portsmouth and West Ham. Both were much needed victories at the time, as Arsenal looked to bounce back from their devastating loss to Olympiacos. After those two games, Mari will have been brimming with confidence and looking to continue to earn his place in the side. As we know, he wouldn’t get that opportunity.
Toward the end of the interview, Mari addresses his desire to sign a permanent deal. Something that has been hinted at as “inevitable” by multiple sources. He says:
“My moment has arrived. The chance to sign for four years, an opportunity I think I’ve earned. It’s time. I like the idea of no longer going round and round. If I have to, I’ll keep going until my career ends, but I think I’ve found a club to put down roots. A traditional club that supports its people, people who believe in it and give everything. I’d like to be part of that, a great footballer for many years for Arsenal.”
It’s a great quote. One that Arsenal fans would like to hear from any prospective player. Hearing him acknowledge our roots as a traditional club and one that supports its people will have resonated with a lot of us in a good way, but what does his signing mean for Arsenal’s willingness to look for others? And if it foreshadows Arsenal being content to only signing Mari as the left-footed center back that Arteta has spoke about wanting, is he the player to bring much needed security to the backline?
A few people have likened Mari to “a modern game Per Mertesacker”. Visually the comparisons are easy to see. At 191cm (6’4”) and 87kg (191lbs), his physical presence is hard to miss. Additionally, in keeping with the modern game, he offers the ability to pick out a pass from the backline – aligning with something we have seen Arteta ask of David Luiz and even Mustafi. On multiple occasions in Mari’s two appearances he picked out a cross-field ball with his left to help spring the attack, as well as, seen his composure on the ball under pressure. But the Spanish center back is far from flawless.
Although he reads the game well, wins the ball out of the air frequently, and possesses a lot of the skills prized central defenders are known for, there are worries around his ability to handle himself against an attack built on pace. While every defense has struggled with the pacey interplay of Liverpool, imagining Mari trying to keep up with the Merseyside front three feels a bit daunting.
Certainly, Mari could be partnered with someone to help make up for the lack of pace and offer him cover. It’s something fans will have expected Arteta to have considered long and hard before bringing him in, but the situation that now surrounds us would have been impossible to predict.
The COVID-19 pandemic has likely turned a lot of plans on their head, including dashing most team’s plans for this upcoming transfer window. The pandemic has slashed most every club’s sources of revenue and threatens kill the transfer market as we know it. It is something that could not have been timed poorer for an Arsenal team in need of a handful of players to fill the gaps in their team.
What this change could mean is teams will be forced to settle with the deals in front of them to make ends meet, instead of looking to source the best replacement they could find. Instead of signing Mari, someone who always seemed likely to have his time extended, as well as some additional aid – be it from Upamecano, N’Dicka, Disasi, or any other player Arsenal had felt confident in bringing on board – Arsenal may need to get creative with their approach to next year’s defence.
It is good to see Arsenal likely close to sealing his permanence, as he demonstrated signs of potential, but as we are now in a world where ever pound spent on one player may mean we have an inability to solve other problems – the need for efficiency and effectiveness with spend has never been greater. With that in mind, we look forward to seeing if his signing has an effect on Arsenal’s willingness to go find another central defender or if Arteta believes Mari has the making of a permanent fixture in our backline.