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Pablo Marí - Will he solve Arsenal’s defensive problems? An in depth look at the Spanish Defender

By James Whiffing

Having been heavily pressured due to injuries and poor performances, Mikel Arteta was forced to strengthen Arsenal’s defence in January, with the Gunners boss completing the loan signing of Pablo Marí from Brazilian champions Flamengo for £4.5 million. But who is Marí, and how will he fit into Arteta’s new system?

Pablo Marí’s Background

Marí is a Spanish centre-back who was previously was on the books of Manchester City, although he never made an appearance for the Citizens after being loaned out 3 times (to Girona, NAC Breda and Deportivo La Coruña). The Spaniard played a key role in the successes of Flamengo last season, where he won the Copa Libertadores and the Brazilian League, as well as guiding his side to the Club World Cup Final, where they lost 1-0 to the Champions of Europe (Liverpool). However, Marí put in an impressive display against Klopp’s side in the final, dealing with the dangerous Liverpool trio of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mané and Mohammed Salah relatively well for 120 minutes.

Pablo Marí’s Strengths

One of Marí’s obvious strengths is his aerial ability. Standing at a staggering 6’4, the 26-year-old is useful for both defending and attacking set pieces, with the Spaniard scoring 2 goals from set piece situations this season for Flamengo, and with an aerial win rate of 71% or an average of 2.5 per 90.

Marí is also very calm and composed on the ball, and has great awareness in terms of his passing ability; the Spaniard can comfortably go long or play it short depending on the situation, and can dribble past incoming attackers if need be. In terms of statistical success rates, he averages 90% pass completion rate, with 6.12 pressured long balls per 90 and 5.95 unpressured long balls per 90.

Marí has also mastered the offside trap; something which is very useful in modern football due to the abundance of quick strikers and wingers nowadays. Marí’s positioning is another of his many strengths, with the defender having the ability to anticipate where the opponent and/or ball is going before positioning himself to intercept or tackle to win possession back for his team; he reads the game very well.

Pablo Marí’s Weaknesses

Surprisingly, Marí’s most glaring flaw is his inability to defend in a 1v1 situation effectively; something a defender should obviously ideally be good at. The Spaniard can read the game well, so his primary method of winning the ball back is to anticipate where the ball is going. However, he dives in far too often when his method goes into practice, and is often spun by the opposition attacker when put in a 1v1 scenario.

Another of Marí’s weaknesses is his overwhelming lack of pace. If the Spanish centre half is rounded by an opposition player, then he will not be able to recover efficiently due to his flat-footedness and lack of speed, and the opposing player will most likely be left alone on goal.

How can Marí fit into Arteta’s system?

Since his appointment, Arteta has implemented Guardiola-style tactics into the Arsenal team. One of these tactics being to position players to draw pressure centrally, opening up space on the flanks, allowing a diagonal ball from the backline to get the ball forward quickly, thus bypassing the pressure; something that we saw against the likes of Bournemouth and, in spells, against Burnley.

We’ve seen the likes of David Luiz and Shkodran Mustafi grow accustomed to this during Arteta’s reign. This system would utilise Marí’s excellent range of passing, with the Spaniard able to play the ball long and short. Arsenal have also scored 8 goals from corners this season, which is 2 more than any other team; Marí is likely to only add to this stat with his immense 6’4 frame and aerial ability, whilst also helping the Gunners defend set pieces in their own box, with Arteta’s men struggling to do so this season (evident on Sunday against Everton).

Since joining Arsenal from Manchester City, Mikel Arteta has started to play a style of football that plays to the player’s strengths, and mitigates their weaknesses. He could and should do the same with Marí so that he can avoid getting tight to his man and defending 1v1 in order to prevent him from getting spun and exposed for pace.

If Arteta can bring the best out of Pablo Marí and dampen his flaws, then it will massively boost Arsenal in the passing department, and will hopefully fix up Arsenal’s inability to defend set pieces.

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