Arsenal v Newcastle: Match in pictures
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has found himself a new undroppable in recent weeks – Pablo Mari. The Spanish centre-back has played the entirety of Arsenal’s four-match winning run and has proven why he was such a bargain at an initial £7.2million. Mari has been a calm presence at the back for Arteta and puts doubt over the return of summer signing Gabriel Magalhaes.
Gabriel earned rave reviews for his early performances for Arsenal, especially in the 1-0 win at Manchester United in November.
However, the Brazilian put in a couple of shaky performances, including a sending off in the 1-1 draw with Southampton, before he missed three matches after testing positive for coronavirus.
Gabriel will bounce back from those setbacks eventually but may find it tough to get straight back into the starting XI.
Arteta has made it clear he wants to have a left-footed centre-back in his defence to help implement his passing style.
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However, it remains to be seen if he would be prepared to play two at the same time.
Both Gabriel and Mari are left-footed and the awkwardness of having one of them on their weaker side may mean they cannot play together.
The last left-footed pairing at the back for Arsenal was Thomas Vermaelen and Mikael Silvestre in the 2009/10 season. It wasn’t pretty.
Right-footed central defenders are much more accomplished at playing on the left than the other way around.
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A month ago fans would have laughed if it was suggested that Gabriel did not make Arsenal’s best XI.
But the performances from Mari suggest he deserves a run in the team.
Initially joining on loan from Flamengo last January, Arsenal made Mari’s deal permanent in the summer.
He suffered a serious ankle injury in the first match after Project Restart which ruled him out of the first few months of this season as well as the remainder of last.
The 27-year-old received some criticism from Arsenal supporters during his outings in the Europa League this term.
But those doubters have, so far, been proved wrong.
Arsenal’s record with Mari in the team is phenomenal. He has made nine appearances for the club, with the Gunners winning eight of them.
The only match they didn’t win was the 3-0 loss to Manchester City last June, where he was substituted after just 24 minutes due to that injury with the score at 0-0.
Arsenal have only conceded four goals while he has been on the pitch and just one in the Premier League.
There is no way Mari should be dropped anytime soon. He may well be rested at some point due to the fixture congestion.
But when fully fit and available, he gets in the side ahead of Gabriel on current form.
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