When Pablo Mari arrived from Flamengo in January 2020, not much was expected of the centre-back other than him being a useful squad option for Arsenal.
He arrived for a very small transfer fee, and made just a handful of appearances before the Premier League was shut down and forced to take a break.
And then, he suffered an injury in the first-half of the top-flight’s restart against Manchester City, and it seemed like the Gunners had endured yet another transfer nightmare.
But with Gabriel’s absence in recent weeks, Mikel Arteta has placed his trust in Mari, and the Spaniard is repaying his manager’s faith with some superb performances, none more so than against Newcastle in the FA Cup on Saturday night.
The £85k-a-week ace was joined in central defence by a new partner for the game, Daviz Luiz. And the duo were exceptional as they barely let the Magpies have a sniff all game, with Mari in particular really dominating the battle against Andy Carroll – something that might have worried Arsenal fans before the game.
As per Sofascore, Mari won eight total duels on the night, as well as making an impressive four tackles, three interceptions and five clearances.
His reading of the game was superb throughout, countless times just nicking in front of a player, and then showing the composure to play a pass forward rather than being safe and playing it out for a throw-in.
It was no surprise that after the game, plenty of people were quick to shower him with praise, with Football.London journalist Chris Wheatley declaring on Twitter that he’s “proving himself to be a leader”, whilst Goal’s Charles Watts simply dubbed him a “revelation” in his YouTube match reaction video.
Kieran Tierney may take the headlines for yet another barn-storming game that saw him claim another assist. But Mari’s performance at the heart of defence was just as impressive and deserving of the same plaudits.