Prior to the international break Arsenal centre-half Gabriel gave two impressive showings.
Illness and injury ruled Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny out of the Liverpool game, with the Frenchman returning to partner Gabriel in the win at St. James’ Park. Arsène Wenger didn’t sign anyone at the end of the transfer window, but he may have found a player to add to his first choice eleven.
Two appearances and two clean sheets, Gabriel was assured throughout both matches and clamour will surely build on Arsène Wenger to continue to picking the Brazilian after the international break, challenging his first-choice pairing of Mertesacker and Koscielny.
Thomas Vermaelen could never form a good partnership with Koscielny, who has always looked more comfortable on the left side of a pairing. That wasn’t the only issue, as both were what I would call ‘proactive’ defenders – they look to break the lines to win the ball ahead of the rest of the defence, ending opposition attacks early before launching Arsenal onto the front foot while the opponents don’t have their shape set.
This is why Koscielny works so well with Mertesacker, who prefers to sit off and let the game come to him. Koscielny has the pace in the partnership but he isn’t the one who sweeps, he attacks the ball while the big German reads the play.
They don’t compliment each other simply because one is fast and the other is composed, rather their preferred styles compliment one another’s.
The majority of people would probably quite like to see Koscielny and Gabriel partner each other, but does the Brazilian really compliment Koscielny in the way that Mertesacker does, or would it be a partnership doomed to fail like the Vermaelen one?
Much like Vermaelen, Gabriel is naturally proactive. He wants to attack the play and win the ball. At Newcastle he and Koscielny were untroubled – they played against 10 men and no striker for over 70 minutes – but did what they had to do very well.
In order to form a strong partnership with Koscielny, Gabriel will have to learn to sit off. He seems to have the intelligence to change his game and, at 24 years of age, is young enough to do so. But is that what Arsenal want?
For a few years now Koscielny has been excellent at the back for the Gunners but is approaching 30; defenders often peak late but one who relies so heavily on accelerating quickly may have already peaked. If Arsenal consider that Koscielny may not be the player he is for too much longer, perhaps Gabriel is the perfect replacement.
As he is with Koscielny, it seems that Mertesacker could be the partner to bring the best out of Gabriel.
Alongside the German, Gabriel would be able to play as he wishes at the back, attacking the ball when the opportunity arises and relying on Mertesacker (and Nacho Monreal, for that matter) to cover the spaces.
One of Gabriel’s obvious areas to improve is passing out from the back, which Mertesacker excels at. Koscielny has improved greatly in this regard but Arsenal still try to play from the back with Mertesacker as often as possible. With Francis Coquelin at the base of the midfield it is more vital than ever that Arsenal have a defender to play passes through lines, which Mertesacker quietly excels that.
At 24 years of age, Gabriel is the future of the Arsenal defence. The current first-choice pair will soon be 30 and 31, ready to play with less regularity to allow the Brazilian in.
With Calum Chambers alongside him in the 0-0 draw against Liverpool, Arsenal were shaky. Playing out from the back saw the Gunners struggle, yet Arsenal persisted with using Chambers to pass out from deep. This should really highlight the belief that Gabriel isn’t so strong at playing the ball from the back.
Chambers is usually very good but, with his fellow players not offering many viable options, he hesitated and was pressed into the errors on a number of occasions.
However, he is still just 20 and has all the raw ability to become a superb centre-half. Much like Mertesacker he stands off and reads the play. At 20 and 24, Chambers and Gabriel could become Arsenal’s next Mertesacker and Koscielny.
The beauty of having Gabriel at the age of 24 and with so many super attributes is that he is incredibly malleable. The defender can become pretty much anything wants him to be. Per Mertesacker is the most suitable partner right now but the Brazilian appears to be intelligent enough to adapt his game to play alongside Koscielny. Meanwhile Calum Chambers should provide the perfect foil for Gabriel as time goes on.
Is it time for Wenger to start using the Brazilian more often, even if it means disregarding a trusted pair in the meantime? Gabriel is likely to be the future of the Arsenal defence, so it is sure to cross the manager’s mind.