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Could Arteta target Pablo Mari improve Arsenal defence?

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As recently as June, he was the man who missed the chance that cost Deportivo La Coruna promotion back to La Liga. By November, he was a champion of Brazil and South America, being feted by Flamengo fans as a key factor in the club’s first league title in 30 years.
But for Arsenal supporters, the fascination now is what could lie ahead for the Spanish defender in 2020. Mikel Arteta, who moved to Manchester City in the same summer as Mari in 2016, wants to make the player his first signing as a manager. Edu Gaspar, the club’s Brazilian sporting director, appears to like what he has seen too.
Such informed judges should be enough to encourage supporters but Arsenal fans could be forgiven for being unsure of what to expect. Some would say that anyone would be an upgrade on the hapless pairing of Shkodran Mustafi and David Luiz. Others remember that both were presented as the solution upon their arrival at the club.
“I only want to bring somebody in if I’m really convinced that he can really improve the level that we have,” says Arteta. But is an uncapped 26-year-old defender who was playing in the Spanish second division a little over six months ago really the answer?
Speak to those who know Mari well and there is some cause for optimism. Firstly, while the trajectory of his career has been unusual, he has left a positive impression everywhere that he has been. Upon signing for City, he was loaned out to Girona and then Eredivisie club NAC Breda, where coach Jefta Bresser did not need long to see that he had special qualities.
Within five weeks we decided that he should be the captain of the team.
Jefta Bresser
“He impressed us from the very beginning,” Bresser said. “In pre-season he came in as a foreign guy and within five weeks we decided that he should be the captain of the team. He was open-minded and eager to learn. He was a real professional.
“He was defensively good and good at building from the back. That season was important for his development because he played over 30 games. We stayed up but it was a struggle so there was often a lot of pressure on the defence. It helped him take the next step.”
Mari made a positive impression during his season with NAC Breda
Mari made a positive impression during his season with NAC Breda
There was some surprise that this next step took him back to Spain’s second tier. After all, Mari had enjoyed a season in La Liga with lowly Gimnastic prior to joining City. Now he found himself back where he had started, albeit at a bigger club in Deportivo La Coruna.
Again, his impact was positive, as Xurxo Fernandez, a journalist covering the club for local newspaper La Voz de Galicia, recalls.
Mari spent last season on loan at Spanish club Deportivo La Coruna
Mari spent last season on loan at Spanish club Deportivo La Coruna
“He stood out for his good handling of the ball and his aerial game, scoring goals from set-piece situations,” Fernandez tells Sky Sports. “He formed a very good partnership with Domingos Duarte, who is now impressing at Granada. The beginning of the season was spectacular, although in the latter stages of the campaign his level fell.”
The fall was tough to take, the ending particularly sour. Deportivo went into the second leg of their promotion play-off against Mallorca with a two goal lead but collapsed to a three-goal defeat in Palma. One away goal would have been enough to take Depor to La Liga.
Mari looks to the heavens during Deportivo’s play-off against Mallorca
Mari looks to the heavens during Deportivo’s play-off against Mallorca
“When the ball came to him, he headed wide when all he had to do was score to win the tie,” says Fernandez. “He will be remembered forever as the footballer who missed the chance that would have led to Deportivo’s rise.”
For Depor, the significance of the moment has only increased as the months have passed. Despite a recent upturn in results, the team that were champions of Spain twenty years ago are third bottom of the second division and facing the risk of relegation to the third tier for the first time in 45 years. Mari’s career, meanwhile, has gone in the opposite direction.
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