Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Burnley was a frustrating day for Arsenal.
The Gunners had ample opportunities to win the game through Bukayo Saka, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Nicolas Pepe and Dani Ceballos, and were very unlucky to not have a penalty given in their favour for what looked a clear handball by Erik Pieters in the box.
Yet the game will be remembered for a farcical error that allowed the Clarets to score their equaliser on the day when Granit Xhaka played a ball straight into Chris Wood who simply had to guide the ball into the net.
The Swiss midfielder and goalkeeper Bernd Leno have both come under intense scrutiny for their part in the goal, but what has gone unnoticed in all the furore is what Pablo Mari did in the build up.
The Spaniard is slowly developing into one of Mikel Arteta’s most trustworthy centre backs.
In the ten games where he has played the full 90 minutes since his arrival from Flamengo last January Arsenal have lost just once, and recently he has been able to dislodge the seemingly undroppable Gabriel from the Premier League line up having started the last three games.
Against Burnley he continued his fine form completing 100% of his tackles, making eight clearances and winning seven aerial duels – the most of any player on the pitch. The latter of those stats is particularly impressive when you consider the well known long ball threat that Sean Dyche’s side pose.
As well as being impressive in his defensive duties though, Mari is someone who is very accomplished on the ball.
The 27-year-old completed 90.9% of his passes – the highest success rate of any Arsenal player who started the match – and is one of the Gunners’ loudest communicators, seeking to orchestrate the manner with which they play out from the back.
This could be seen just before the mistake Xhaka made at Turf Moor.
As Leno plays the ball out to the Swiss midfielder, Mari can be heard shouting “David, David” and seen (on the right hand side of the screenshot below) gesturing over to his central defensive partner David Luiz who is on for the first time pass on the right hand side of the box (on the left side of the pitcture).
Xhaka instead takes a touch before playing the ball allowing Wood to block the passing lane and intercept to score the goal.
While the error will of course have frustrated Mikel Arteta, he would have been pleased to see Mari encouraging his teammates to continue to play out from the back.
The consensus among pundits after the mistake was that the Gunners should have looked to boot it long instead of sticking to Arteta’s principle of keeping the ball on the floor as they transition from defence to attack.
“This ball should be launched by the goalkeeper,” said Martin Keown to BT Sport at half time.
“Okay, Granit gives it away and he shouldn’t, it is his mistake. But don’t give it to him. You have got to recognise when the opposition is right on top of you.