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Pablo Mari & Arsenal: Why he is no normal signing by Mikel Arteta

COMMENT: It's a statement. Pablo Mari to Arsenal. And one of intent. Above all else, for a first signing as Gunners manager, Mikel Arteta was determined to make this one his.

For all the voices. All the input. From directors to technical chiefs and scouts. To kickoff the Arteta era, the groundwork for this first arrival is strictly old school.

The manager knows Mari. He's worked with him - followed his career. There was no need for scouting reports and Moneyball stats. Arteta has gone with what he knows. After three years together at Manchester City, Arteta knows enough about the 26 year-old to make the Spaniard the first signing of his career.

And it's significant. Raul Sanllehi would've had some input. And Edu was involved, sure. It was the Brazilian who caught up with Mari in Rio last week, relayed Arteta's pitch and closed an agreement with Flamengo. But it was all on instructions from the manager. As those close to the Basque told this column when he was first touted for the job, Arteta is his own man. A serious, determined personality. And from last week's actions, it would appear there's an understanding that Arteta's voice - above all others - will weigh heaviest when deciding on new signings.

Make no mistake, Mari isn't returning to England without the influence of Arteta. He wasn't on the radar of other Prem clubs. And there were no agents touting his name to managers short of a centre-half. If the Gunners boss was still pushing cones around at the Etihad campus, Mari would be preparing for a new preseason with Flamengo.

So it does cut both ways. Yes, it should encourage the Arsenal support that the club's football chiefs will acquiesce to the manager's decision-making. But Mari is also Arteta's signing. Not Edu's nor Sanllehi's. At 26 and departing the Brasileiro, as voted by his peers, the Championship's outstanding centre-half, Mari arrives with an expectation of making an instant impact. The belief is he'll be a step above what Arsenal already has. Better than Shkodran Mustafi. More capable in the clinches than Sokratis. Mari isn't one to develop and bring through. Not at 26. Arteta has hung his hat on his countryman. He must know his career at Arsenal will be linked to Mari. It will be defined by the player's performances in a Gunners shirt.

And it's a gamble. At least for those on the outside. Before Fla. Before these last six months. Mari had club hopped. A Manchester City player in name only, the defender never managed a competitive appearance for the Sky Blues. Indeed, it's something he's since admitted was always the understanding: "From day one, the condition was that I was not going to play, although it was not a written condition.

"I had joined the 'City Group' and I would leave wherever it was convenient [for the board]. I would have liked to play for City, but the centrals there are top world level..."

As such, he spent three years away from City and England at three different clubs. Furthermore, before Fla, he'd managed just 32 appearances in Europe's top-flight - with 31 of them in the Eredivisie at NAC Breda. The other being a single appearance with Real Mallorca.

By his own admission, before taking the plunge with Flamengo, Mari's career appeared destined for the second tier of European football.

"Coming to Flamengo changed my life," he said before victory over River Plate in the Copa Libertadores final. "Being able to play in a Libertadores final and make history is very big.

"I wouldn't be able to fight for something like that with the other options I had. I am totally happy with the decision to come here."

Indeed, it's been a transformation. Mari hasn't just been part of a successful team - he's been one of it's key influences. As mentioned, league and continental titles were followed up by being voted the Brasileiro's Defender of the Year and also in the Team of the Year. After just six months, the player who captained NAC and did well enough with Deportivo La Coruna, was suddenly among the best playing across South America.

"Jorge Jesus changed my life in three months," says Mari, acknowledging the source of this stunning change. Like Arteta, Mari was a personal wager by Jorge Jesus. The new Fla coach, in need of a left-sided centre-half, was given a series of names by management and went with the little-known Spaniard.

"He saw qualities in me that no one had seen before and even improved them," Mari enthuses. "He extracted things from me that I didn't know he had. My best version multiplied by ten.

"He changed the way I see football, the way I play. Now, I see the game in a different way..."

Which you fancy is what Arteta plans to build upon. Being No2 at City. Watching Mari develop from afar. This deal has all the hallmarks of an assistant coach seeing what his manager and those above them couldn't. Jorge Jesus simply brought out in Mari what Arteta always believed was there.

The Mari signing is a statement. Arteta not only making sure his first signing is all his, but also perhaps taking the opportunity to prove to City that his opinion was worth more than generally considered.

He'll live or die by this one - and you can be sure Arteta wouldn't have it any other way.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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