What Would Pablo Mari Bring to Arsenal? – Scout Report
With the close of the transfer window only a few days away, Arsenal are still in search of candidates to fill their injury-depleted centre-back corps. Last week, the team were widely linked with Shaktar Donetsk’s young centre-back, Mykola Matviyenko. At the end of that week, technical director Edu was seen flying into Heathrow with Flamengo defender, Pablo Mari.
The need for a centre-back was further illustrated during the Gunners’ 2-1 win over Bournemouth in the fourth round of the FA Cup as Shkodran Mustafi went down with looks to be an Achilles injury. That leaves Arsenal with only David Luiz, Sokratis and Rob Holding as fit options to rotate and Holding is still working himself back into shape after a lengthy layoff due to his ACL injury.
Who is Pablo Mari?
As of Friday, no one had really heard of the player who was seen strolling with Edu through Heathrow on Saturday morning. By Saturday afternoon, everyone was an expert.
Pablo Mari has just arrived at Heathrow with Edu and he tell me he is excited to be joining Arsenal.
Medical to take place this weekend. pic.twitter.com/6VY1RM3wJL
— Charles Watts (@charles_watts) January 25, 2020
Until landing at Flamengo, he was something of a journeyman. Most notable was a 3-year spell at Manchester City where the only time he spent there was during his physical. That time as part of the City set up would see him on loan to Girona, NAC (in Holland) and then back to Spain where he played for Deportivo La Coruna.
Like Matviyenko, he is a left-footed centre-back with an excellent passing range both in long and short passing. At 6’4” he is an imposing figure on the pitch which may be part of the reason he is being considered.
How Arsenal currently play
As with anything we want to consider first how the club are looking to play. And is with the newly invigorated Arsenal the best defence is the attack. Arsenal want a lot of the ball and they know that they are going to meet teams that look to block space and remain compact.
Using a strategy drawn up directly from Pep himself, Arteta wants to create overloads to draw opponents and expose them on the opposite side. Typically, we see this throw David Luiz or in the early parts against Bournemouth, Mustafi.
With Arteta looking to position players to draw pressure centrally, the wings and space behind the midfield open up and a diagonal ball from the backline to get the ball forward quickly, bypassing the pressure.
With that key element of attacking for Arsenal, it is important that players, especially across the back 2 have the ability to make those long passes Arteta is looking for.
It is a little odd to first focus on the attacking portion of a defenders game but it does stick out for Mari as a positive attribute to his overall game.
In terms of statistical success rates, he averages 90% pass success rate per 90 minutes. He averages 6.12 pressured long balls per 90 and 5.95 unpressured long balls per 90.
With regard to his overall effectiveness in effecting attacking play, Mari has an xGBuildup rate of 0.47 per 90. It clearly shows that in terms of being directly involved in creating chances on goal, Mari has a decent rate of return.
Once again, let’s get grounded in Arsenal’s principles of play. Defensively, the 4-2-3-1 Arteta employed has been tweaked from how Unai Emery would play. Under Emery, the system was haphazard at best with players being pulled all over the place ignorant of shape.
Arteta has tightened up the shape, reduced the space between the lines and put players in positions to make them successful. Defensively that means players aren’t getting exposed particularly in 1v1 situations and so far, we’ve yet to see a central defender have to chase after an attacker.
Why is this relevant to Mari?
First of all, Mari isn’t typically fast and he likes to play tight to the attacker he is defending. According to WYSCOUT in 1v1 situations he’s won 27.7% of his duels. This could be an attribute of the type of play Flamengo wants him to do but with him playing up on a player, real tight, he’s easily spun and without good recovery pace he can get beat.
Where he makes up for his lack of pace is through sound positioning and excellent reading of the game. When you watch his play he anticipates the path of the ball exceptionally well and will often times get himself in the right position by the end of it.
Excellent Aerial Ability
In terms of where he is really successful is his ability in the air. In part aided by his 6’4 frame, Pablo Mari has an aerial win rate of 71% or an average of 2.5 per 90 (according to Whoscored.com).
The rate is lower than the man he’d likely be replacing Shkodran Mustafi and that is with Mustafi playing fewer games than the Spanish defender. Still, he uses his height to his advantage and can be an effective ball-winner in the air versus bigger stronger opponents.
Both of Mari’s primary weaknesses have already been called out previously but the most glaring is his ability in 1v1 duels. Ideally, you want your defenders to not over commit to an attacker and play them too close. Especially, if your second biggest weakness is that you aren’t that fast.
Slower defenders, even when playing behind an attacker need to be able to adjust to the speed of an attacker and put themselves in a position to deny the attacker space. Too often you see situations with Mari where he is right next to the attacker and as an aggressive player who is trying to anticipate play, he gets spun quite easily.
As we mentioned previously, he sometimes can make up for that due to his reading of the game but against the stronger, quicker and smart Premier League attackers, his weakness in 1v1 situations can leave an attacker alone on goal.
Of course, Arteta’s style of play may accommodate that and take away the likelihood of Mari being exposed in these scenarios, but it is something to consider if he’s going to transition from the Brasileirão to the Premier League.
When you look at the two centre-backs Arsenal have been linked with this January window, Matviyenko is probably the better of the two. He simply has more speed at his disposal and he’s more successful in the type of long passing Arteta could be looking for from a centre-back. That being said, Mari isn’t a bad choice, especially if it’s only a loan deal. His ability to read the game is solid and he can pass the ball quite effectively.
Mikel Arteta has done a fantastic job of setting up Arsenal in a way that plays to player’s strengths and mitigates there weaknesses and we should expect that it would be no different if Mari is the centre-back we bring in.
All stats used in this piece are courtesy of STATSBOMB