Gabriel Magalhaes is Arsenal’s most important and in-form defender heading into a crucial period in the title chase.
Mikel Arteta and Edu Gaspar get the plaudits for their stellar rebuild of Arsenal. The club’s board, including the owners, deserve massive praise for keeping their faith in a manager. Many even called to be immediately sacked after his first full season when they finished eighth.
When Arteta joined around December 2019, he was nearing his first transfer window. Having been left with a clueless squad (not for their quality), the manager had to make signings that stabilise things rather than bring someone to please the squad. The first thing he did was secure Pablo Mari, who will go down as the Spaniard’s first Arsenal signing.
— Evan Cooper (@Lacazest) January 16, 2023
Mari came in with a decent reputation after a good club world cup performance against Liverpool. While many thought that caught the attention, Arteta was merely looking for a cheap, left-footed centre-back. The Spanish defender’s debut ended in injury, and he was never seen again that season.
Hence, Arteta was, in a way, forced to repeat that task and look for another left-footed centre-back. This time in the following summer window, the decision will not depend on costs but strictly on the profile of the player coming in. At that time, Arsenal were not a strong force in the market and had the threat of Napoli looming large as they negotiated with LOSC Lille for Gabriel Magalhaes.
The Brazilian is a physical specimen and looks like a unit at the back. His first season left much to desire, but he performed admirably. What stood out was his goalscoring numbers. Gabriel often found the net regularly and was the top-scoring defender in the 2021-22 Premier League season.
William Saliba’s return to the team after a three-year hiatus, should we say, has put the spotlight and praises towards the Frenchman. However, all signs point to Gabriel being the lynchpin in this amazing Arsenal backline. Let’s dive briefly into it and see what has changed with the Brazilian in the last 18 months.
Gabriel Magalhaes was naive, but not anymore
Strikers miss plenty of chances and several big ones, but it is considered part of their game. When a forward squander tons of opportunities but ends up netting, he is usually rid of all charges.
Over the last 18 months, Gabriel Magalhães has developed into one of the best LCBs in the game. He's passionate, fiery, aggressive, technically secure and he scores important goals. He exactly what #Arsenal have always needed. Superb talent. #afc
— Adam Keys (@adamkeys_) January 18, 2023
For a defender, the centre-halves it the total opposite. Each movement is always scrutinised. Critics gather around when an error leads to a goal and spurt their disdain towards the said player. Gabriel has gone through such phases plenty of times. He was even written off as the weak link at the start of the current season.
Last season, he was regularly paired with Ben White as Arsenal’s two main centre-backs. With a lack of depth, Gabriel was often tasked to play many games week in week out. But fortunately, the Gunners did not have European commitments. At times he was naive, and that is part of a young defender’s game.
Arsenal were in control of the game against Manchester City on New Year’s Eve for large parts. Having been in the lead for a significant part, they conceded an unfortunate penalty. Gabriel led the arguing Gunners stars as referee Stuart Atwell rather harshly booked him.
Two minutes later, Atwell did not hesitate in booking Gabriel again after the defender’s cynical foul on Gabriel Jesus at the halfway line. That moment stamped a mark on the Brazilian as being too bold and someone who could cost his team games. Manchester City found the net into stoppage time in that match to clinch a famous victory.
As the season progressed, Gabriel’s demeanour and style of play became much calmer. Yet, he ended up costing a few valuable points and did not cover himself in glory with performances at the end of the season. Those cost Arsenal a place in the top four, but there was a bright future ahead.
Gabriel Magalhaes is now Arsenal’s most important defender
The Gabriel of last season was evident at the start of the current campaign. A few naive and needless mistakes may have cost his team a lot. A terrible mistake against Fulham, the concession of the Spurs penalty and the narrow escape at Leeds managed to tarnish his reputation.
— afcstuff (@afcstuff) January 22, 2023
Even there was criticism of his performance against Manchester United at Old Trafford. But Gabriel has thoroughly put those behind him and started producing impeccable performances. He soon became Arteta’s most important player at the back.
His ability on the ball and calmness in possession makes him a terrific outlet for Arteta to play out of the back. His aggressive nature has seen the defender stave off top-notch centre-forwards, while his partnership with Saliba is growing by the game.
There were some top-notch displays against Chelsea and twice against Tottenham, and the Brazilian centre-back seems to grow with each passing game. His game has a different sense of discipline, and the added responsibilities play a part.
Gabriel has to often cover the left space on his own, owing to how Oleksandr Zincheko operates in games. His physical stature and good speed allow him to cover distances. Additionally, he proves a handy outlet when Arsenal are attacking and is a threat from set pieces. He already has two goals this season, earning the Gunners three points on both occasions.
Gabriel is now Arsenal’s most important player and is the ideal foil for the young Saliba with his experience. He will prove crucial to Arsenal’s chances of winning the title. His composure against Manchester United to not pick a booking that may have resulted in an automatic suspension shows his growing maturity. He is ready, and so are the Gunners to see the Brazilian lead the backline towards a terrific conclusion of the season.