Arsenal centre-back Pablo Mari is set to join Udinese on loan for the rest of the season, according to multiple reports. The left-footed centre-back was Mikel Arteta’s first transfer as Arsenal manager, on loan from Flamengo in January 2020 before signing a deal to keep him in north London for the 2023-24 season. The Italy loan can see Arsenal avoid another £865,000 payment to Flamengo, although it’s unclear if the payout clause for every 10 appearances in his move from Brazil only applied to the ready or at all his time at the club.
Mari has played sparingly since arriving in North London. He suffered a serious ankle injury when the project restarted in June 2020 and didn’t have a long streak due to other injuries and Gabriel Magalhaes clearly established himself as the first-choice LCB.
This season has been no different. Mari has only made three appearances: the 2-0 defeats to Brentford and Chelsea to open the season and the 3-0 win over Wimbledon in the League Cup in September. That game three months ago was his last playing time for the club. He probably would have played in other cup games but missed his chance due to injuries and positive COVID tests.
I doubt Arsenal will resent Mari’s departure much this season, and the loan is a pretty clear sign that the centre-back is in the shop window for a permanent sale this summer. Mari had one or two above average performances, some average to below average, and some disaster classes, which boils down to not good enough or consistent enough for Arsenal and not something the Gunners will miss.
Mari’s departure leaves the club slimmer at CB for the rest of the season and with Gabriel Magalhaes as the only true left-handed centre-back on the roster. If Gabriel got injured or suspended, I think Mikel Arteta would give up his foot preference for his CBs and play Rob Holding and Ben White in the middle.
Moving Kieran Tierney into the middle with Nuno Tavares in LB would also be an option, but recent poor performances and Nuno’s 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 under a 3 CB system for Scotland.
Assuming Mari heads for the door this summer, Arsenal could be looking to bring in another left-footed CB in the next transfer window. Although Mikel Arteta insists that William Saliba is still part of the club’s long-term plans, the CB depth chart, disregarding the foot, could be a bit cluttered with Gabriel, White, Saliba, Holding and a option to extend Calum Chambers for another season.
The initial loan move for Mari was a low risk, medium reward move. The contract until 2023-24 was a bit more risky, but £85,000-a-week for a back-up LCB isn’t the worst deal in the world. That said, paying anything for a guy who barely plays isn’t great either. He was a stopgap with a small benefit that didn’t materialize. And so it makes sense for the Gunners to leave Mari.