Pablo Marí: The Placid Presence In Arsenal's Defence
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21: Pablo Mari of Arsenal during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Manchester City at Emirates Stadium on February 21, 2021 in London, England. Sporting stadiums around the UK remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

Arsenal cruised to a 3-1 victory away to Leicester City in the Premier League on Sunday with a number of positive performances from players who are more often than not on the periphery of the first team. 

Nicolas Pépé, Willian and Cedric Soares all impressed and contributed positively to the Gunners' attacking threat. However, it was the calming presence of Pablo Marí at the heart of the defence which went somewhat under the radar that was equally as impressive.

Aside from the opening goal, in which Youri Tielemans marauded into the Arsenal box unopposed and scored, Mikel Arteta's side largely negated any attacking threat posed by the Foxes and that was primarily down to the occupancy of Marí in the Gunners back line. 

The Spaniard was unperturbed by the presence of Jamie Vardy who mustered zero shots and zero key passes against a stalwart Arsenal side. 

Composure In Arsenal's Defence

Marí is strikingly composed for a player who only joined Arsenal in the 2020 January transfer window and his presence is already being felt by his teammates. 

Arsenal have won seven out of eight games in which Marí has started in the 2020/21 season, giving the Gunners an 87.5% win rate with him in the side, including tough fixtures against the likes of Chelsea, Leicester and Brighton & Hove Albion

However, despite these positive stats, it is the work that Marí does that goes largely unnoticed that illustrates his importance. When Arsenal are in possession Marí acts as a general, making sure his defensive partner is well-positioned and constantly providing a passing option.

Moreover, when defending set-pieces the former Flamengo centre-back is tasked with marshalling the back line and ensuring players are in the correct position. 

In terms of discipline, Marí is not rash in the challenge and compares favourably to his defensive colleagues in terms of fouls. Per 90 minutes, Marí commits just 0.7 fouls per game, which is the same as Rob Holding and less than David Luiz (0.9) and Gabriel Magalhães (1.1).

This further illustrates the positive presence that Marí adds to an Arsenal defence that can be wayward at times. 

Crucial to Arsenal's build-up play

Furthermore, another benefit of having Marí in Arsenal's back line is his contribution to Arsenal's attacking play. Under Arteta, the Gunners like to build attacks from the defensive third of the pitch and utilise their defenders when playing out from the back, something which Marí is comfortable doing. 

Despite playing considerably less minutes than the likes of Holding, Gabriel and Luiz, Marí contributes 0.3 key passes per game, which is more than the aforementioned players who register 0.2, 0.1 and 0.2 respectively. 

Additionally, Marí tends to be more careful in possession than Arsenal's other centre-backs and gives the ball away less. The former Manchester City academy graduate has an 86.4% pass completion percentage, the highest out of all centre-backs at the club. 

Marí is also yet to register an unsuccessful dribble whilst in possession, illustrating that he is more than capable of bringing the ball out from the back if needs be despite pressure from opposing strikers and midfielders. 

It is evident that Marí brings something unique to Arsenal's defence which other centre-backs are unable to offer to the same extent; a calmness in possession, discipline and the ability to sufficiently link defence to attack.

If the Spaniard can continue to stay fit, he will not only provide ample competition for the likes of Gabriel and Luiz, but could establish himself as a mainstay in the Gunners back line for years to come.