It may have taken Arsenal a while to complete the signing of Gabriel in the transfer market but on the pitch the defender has been an immediate success.
After weeks of contradictory reports, the Gunners finally completed the signing of the 22-year-old from Lille at the beginning of September for a fee believed to be in the region of £23 million.
Since his arrival in north London, the defender has had the difficult task of trying to improve the Gunners’ defence – an area that has received significant criticism over the last few years.
In what used to be described by some as an “uncoachable” defence, the tide seems to be changing slowly for Arsenal. In the Premier League so far, the Gunners have conceded the second fewest amount of goals and have already contested Liverpool, Manchester City, and West Ham.
From Mikel Arteta’s promising coaching to the arrival of Gabriel, there are many factors that have helped improve the team defensively. But in an area that was crying out for someone new just a few months ago, it’s worth praising the Brazilian for his superb adjustment to his new life in London.
At first, it seemed like Gabriel would be eased into the team but a number of injuries to the Gunners’ backline prevented this. The defender was forced to make his Arsenal debut less than two weeks after his arrival in a London derby against newly promoted side Fulham.
Many speculated the 22-year-old would need the time to settle due to a variety of factors. The Ligue de Football Professionnel’s (LFP) decision to cancel Ligue 1 in April meant Gabriel hadn’t played a senior game of football since March, his arrival in September meant he had only trained at Arsenal for around a week, and it typically takes time for younger players to adapt to English football.
Despite the speculation and the pressure, Gabriel proved his doubters wrong and delivered an exceptional performance at Craven Cottage as the Gunners won the game 3-0.
Although the Brazilian looked shaky at the start, he looked more comfortable as the game progressed. His superb aerial presence helped him score his first goal for the club, his ability on the ball helped Arsenal build out from the back, and the defender deservedly won the man of the match award too.
Following his outstanding performance, it’s no surprise that Arteta was full of praise for his new defender.
“He showed today his character and his personality because he hasn’t played any football in six months,” said the Arsenal manager. “He only had a couple of sessions with us, but we needed to play him today and he was terrific.”
In such a short amount of time, Gabriel has cemented his place in the starting line-up and has arguably been the Gunners’ best performer so far this season.
While some may argue the defender has faced easy opponents, you could also argue he was Arsenal’s best player against Liverpool and Manchester City, albeit the former was in the Carabao Cup.
The 22-year-old is consistently one of the best on the pitch when he is fielded and in his absence the team looks considerably weaker.
This shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone either when considering his versatility. Unlike every other Arsenal defender, Gabriel looks tailored to the sort of football Arteta wants to play and he stands out amongst the rest because he can thrive in almost every defensive area of the game.
For example, a major part of Arteta’s system comes from building up play from the back, starting with the goalkeeper. Some defenders at the club look far more suited to this style of football than others and Gabriel is the type that always looks relaxed with the ball.
Similar to David Luiz, he has the ability to accurately play a range of passes and has statistically been the club’s standout defender in this regard.
Of the four Premier League matches that he has featured in, the 22-year-old has registered a pass accuracy percentage of 91%, has the best accuracy amongst defenders when completing long-range passes and completed the most passes out of the entire squad with 377. (Source – SofaScore/Premier League)
Elsewhere, Gabriel’s aerial presence and ability in duels has also helped him thrive under Arteta. The Brazilian is the type of defender who isn’t afraid to clear the ball with his head and his ability at winning duels is fairly underrated amongst fans.
The only real weakness the 22-year-old has to his game is the fact that he’s often reliant on his left foot. Considering Arteta wanted to bring in some left-footed defenders when he first joined the club, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially since Gabriel is fielded on the left side of defence.
But if he’s forced onto his weaker foot often by the opposition, it could cause some problems for him in the long run because he hasn’t looked too comfortable when using his right foot.
While it may be too early to say, Gabriel already looks like the missing piece that Arsenal has lacked in defence. For so many years, Arsenal’s defending has been their biggest weakness but the instant impact from the young defender looks to be finally changing this.
As he continues to develop, it’s important to remember that the young defender is still new to English football and there’s a possibility that he makes mistakes as he continues to adjust and realise his potential.
There’s still a long road ahead for Gabriel but it’s fair to say that no one could’ve predicted his early success when he joined the club a month ago.
For a reported £23 million, there’s a strong possibility that this deal could be looked back on in future as one of the bargains of the summer.