Arsenal backup centerback Pablo Mari is set to join Udinese on loan for the rest of the season, per multiple reports. The left-footed centerback was Mikel Arteta’s first transfer as Arsenal manager, joining on loan from Flamengo in January 2020 before signing a contract to keep him in North London through the 2023-24 season. The loan to Italy may allow Arsenal to avoid another £865K payment to Flamengo, although it’s not clear whether the payment every 10 appearances clause in his move from Brazil applied just to the loan or to his entire time at the club.
Mari has played sparingly since coming to North London. He suffered a significant ankle injury during Project Restart in June 2020 and hasn’t had an extended run of matches due to other injuries and Gabriel Magalhaes clearly establishing himself as first choice LCB.
This season has been no different. Mari has made just three appearances: the 2-0 losses to Brentford and Chelsea to open the season and the 3-0 win over Wimbledon in the League Cup in September. That match three months ago was his most recent playing time for the club. He likely would have played other cup matches, but he missed out through injury and positive COVID tests.
I doubt Arsenal will feel Mari’s departure much at all this season, and the loan is a pretty clear sign that the centerback is in the shop window for a permanent sale come this summer. Mari has had one or two above average performances, some middling to below-average ones, and a few disaster-classes, which sums out to not good enough or consistent enough for Arsenal and not something the Gunners will miss.
Mari’s departure does leave the club thinner at CB for the remainder of the season and with Gabriel Magalhaes as the only left-footed, true centerback on the roster. Should Gabriel get hurt or be suspended, I think Mikel Arteta would forgo his footedness preference for his CBs and play Rob Holding and Ben White in the middle.
Moving Kieran Tierney to the middle with Nuno Tavares coming in a LB would also be an option, but Nuno’s recent poor performance and substitution after 35-minutes makes that less likely. Additionally, Tierney doesn’t have much experience in a 2-CB setup, most of his experience in a more central role has come as part of a 3-man system for Scotland.
Assuming that Mari is headed out the door in the summer, Arsenal may look to bring in another left-footed CB in the next transfer window. Although with Mikel Arteta insistent that William Saliba is still part of the long-term plans at the club, the CB depth chart, not accounting for footedness, could get a bit congested with Gabriel, White, Saliba, Holding, and an option to extend Calum Chambers for another season.
The initial loan move for Mari was a low risk, medium reward move. The contract through 2023-24 carried a bit more risk, but £85,000 a week for a backup LCB isn’t the worst contract in the world. That said, paying anything for a guy who pretty much doesn’t play isn’t great either. He was a stopgap with a small bit of upside that didn’t pan out. And so it makes sense for the Gunners to be moving on from Mari.