For more than a decade, Arsenal have been criticised for their inconsistent and at times almost deplorable defensive displays. Be it during the backend of the Arsene Wenger’s reign or that of Unai Emery, the Gunners failed to solve their defensive woes and could never emerge as genuine contenders for major titles.
However, following the appointment of Mikel Arteta as the manager, there has been a paradigm shift in their mentality and the good days do not seem to be too far away.
Arteta, who was an apprentice of the tactical genius Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, took over a sinking ship and has injected a fresh breath of life into the men in red and white.
The Spaniard managed to clinch the FA Cup within a year of his appointment, and also defeated Liverpool to win the Community Shield last weekend, which deserves plaudits.
In pursuance of navigating the north London outfit in the right direction, Arteta has managed to rope in Gabriel Magalhaes from Lille for a reported transfer fee of £25million.
Gabriel was one of the hottest properties in Ligue 1 last season and with William Saliba, he is expected to strike a strong and resilient partnership in the coming years, if not in the immediate season.
Gabriel Magalhaes – A Scout Report of Arsenal’s latest signing
A ball-playing centre-back who loves going forward, Gabriel is a calm and composed defender whose ability belies his age. He is comfortable with the ball at his feet and is rarely seen lunging into rash tackles on his opponents or committing fouls.
The 22-year-old is a clean tackler and intercepts attacking moves well. In 24 French top-flight appearances last season, he mustered 1.7 tackles and 3.3 clearances per game on an average, which is undoubtedly very encouraging. (Stats via Whoscored)
Gabriel is also an imposing figure at the back as he stands in at 1.9metres, has a muscular frame, and often gets the better of forwards when it comes to aerial duels and physical battles.
The Brazilian’s understanding of the game will help the Gunners as he knows exactly when to stay back and when to step up and make the front-footed tackles. Arsenal have lacked that sort of authority at the back.
And of course, his distribution of the ball is another one of his strengths. Arsenal have stuck to a system that allows them to play out from the back, and the goal against Liverpool showed what they are capable of. Defenders who can advance with the ball are in demand these days, and Gabriel, being one of them, should fit in well in the Arteta blueprint.
Lille conceded merely 27 goals in 2019-20 Ligue 1 campaign and a major reason for their defensive soundness was the unwavering partnership of Jose Fonte and Gabriel in the heart of their defensive line, and the latter was one of the leaders of the pack despite being in his early twenties.
As the Premier League is never short of animosity and that Arsenal’s backline is undergoing a period of transformation, it will take some time for him to integrate. But he will definitely relish the opportunity of plying his trade for a big English club.
Despite all of his abilities, it is to be kept in mind that he is still far from being a finished product. However, under Arteta, he can progress further and become the defender and a leader that Arsenal have craved for so long.