Martin Keown wants to see Pablo Mari getting more opportunities, after a positive debut for the January loan signing against Portsmouth.

Arsenal’s Spanish defender Pablo Mari (L) challenges Portsmouth’s Australian midfielder Ryan Williams (C). During the FA Cup match between Portsmouth and Arsenal at Fratton Park stadium on March 2, 2020. (Photo by Adrian DENNIS / AFP via Getty Images)

Martin Keown enjoyed watching Pablo Mari as the Spanish defender made his debut for Arsenal against Portsmouth, and hopes to see the 26-year-old getting further chances now.

“He didn’t have a lot to do apart from his distribution,” Keown admitted. “But he won everything when necessary. You could see that he was a little bit short of fitness and that they are building him up. He looks to have the basis of a good player there.

“There were important first steps on Monday night, even though he wasn’t tested that much because in the second half Arsenal completely dominated possession – it was a bit of a football lesson for Portsmouth.

“I think he looked very solid, he has the height in inches. You look at the stature of the player and he won everything in the air. He wasn’t rapid, but was quick enough to deal with all the situations.

“I think it was important that he had Luiz alongside him to talk him through the game. Now we have to give him time, he has to be given more opportunities.”

Positives in possession

PORTSMOUTH, ENGLAND - MARCH 02: Pablo Mari of Arsenal celebrates after his teammate Sokratis Papastathopoulos of Arsenal (not pictured) scored their team's first goal during the FA Cup Fifth Round match between Portsmouth FC and Arsenal FC at Fratton Park on March 02, 2020 in Portsmouth, England. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
PORTSMOUTH, ENGLAND – MARCH 02: Pablo Mari of Arsenal celebrates after his teammate Sokratis Papastathopoulos of Arsenal (not pictured) scored their team’s first goal during the FA Cup Fifth Round match between Portsmouth FC and Arsenal FC at Fratton Park on March 02, 2020, in Portsmouth, England. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

Mari did well in his first game for the club, but as Keown mentions, that was particularly the case on the ball.

The centre-back completed 13 of his 17 long passes, many more than any other outfield player even attempted in the match. He made 76 passes in total, with an 88% success rate, and made 100 touches over the 90 minutes.

With Arsenal’s domination of possession, that was the most important thing. It was also crucial that he was alive to the danger from long balls sparking counter-attacks though. Mari won three of his four aerial duels and made five clearances, mostly in the air.

Another positive was his ability to make blocks. The debutant blocked three shots, more than anyone else on the team. Far from being an anomaly, that’s actually something listed as a statistical strength of Mari’s on WhoScored.

All that said, it was a match against League One Portsmouth. As well as they’re playing in their division, particularly at home, they’re still a couple of leagues below. Keown is right, Mari has to start getting Premier League chances to prove himself now.

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