The arrival of Pablo Mari will most likely see a change in Mikel Arteta’s defensive set-up.
Brought to Arsenal on a loan with an option to buy in the summer, alongside the fact that he is now the club’s only left-footed centre-back suggests he will be key in the second half of the 2019/20 campaign.
As has been the case at the top of the pitch – deciding on the front three- the head coach will soon have selection headaches in defence when Premier League football returns. Not just because of the bodies he now has available to him but because of the different purposes each defender offers alongside their upturn in form.
Since his appointment in December, all three of Arteta’s main centre-backs have had chances to prove themselves to him. In fact in his nine games in charge he has paired David Luiz and Sokratis three times as well as Luiz and Shkodran Mustafi three times – Mustafi and Sokratis have paired each other once. Rob Holding has featured a couple of times but doesn’t seem as up to pace as his teammates.
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Injuries and suspensions have played a part in these lineups but with all getting relatively equal chance to play, each has shown what they offer to an Arteta backline.
Out of his three primary options, Luiz has emerged as the one with the biggest influence on Arsenal’s style of play. Usually positioned as the left-sided centre-back, on the ball, the Brazilian has been tasked with roaming forward and raking forward passes to either the advancing left-back or left winger. This has been aided by Granit Xhaka dropping next to him, drawing opposition attention and creating space for Luiz to operate in.
This has been a crucial aspect of Arsenal’s play under Arteta. These patterns have been a great success so far and Luiz is very much the player that kicks them off.
Alongside this, his defending has improved massively. In principle, the change has been that he’s more proactive and looks to do the basics rather than reacting or trying to outsmart an attacker. Although mistakes in both games against Chelsea may allow people to continue ridiculing him, he has without a doubt turned his short Arsenal career around under the Spaniard.
Most importantly, however, how the 32-year-old conducts himself around others has also had a major impact, on fans and players alike. In numerous games throughout the year, he has been the man to lift his teammates both virtually and literally. From settling Bukayo Saka down after the 18-year-old made a mistake seconds after coming on to ensure a clean sheet was kept vs Manchester United to heaving Gabriel Martinelli off the floor late on vs Sheffield United and nearly burying a header a moment later, his presence rarely goes unnoticed. Taking it upon himself to pump up the Clock End late in games this presence…