In recent weeks the Arsenal defence has looked a little more assured but that changed last weekend as the side capitulated and conceded an Andy Carroll hat-trick at Upton Park.
Gabriel and Laurent Koscielny couldn’t get close to the big striker, who gradually broke down Arsenal’s slim title chances.
Things may have been different with Per Mertesacker, who certainly has an aerial presence to rival Carroll’s, in the back four, but the Arsenal boss went for Gabriel as he had expected something else from West Ham.
“It’s a very tight choice,” Wenger admitted to Arsenal.com. “One has more pace, one has more experience and leadership qualities. It depends sometimes against who we play.
“For example last Saturday we expected to play against Sakho who has more pace and not especially against Carroll who is better in the air.”
With Arsenal in disarray, the leadership qualities of Mertesacker would’ve come in handy. It is odd, then, that he was left on the bench after half-time. In the opening half, Carroll had assisted a wrongly disallowed goal and scored twice in as many minutes before the break. It’s not as if Arsenal hadn’t been given any warning.
However, the Arsenal boss stuck with Gabriel and Carroll scored again early in the second half.
Mertesacker has not enjoyed his best form this season, even he would admit that, but the experienced German still brings composure and an ability to organise that Arsenal lack when he’s absent. A more natural replacement would be Calum Chambers, who has the potential to read the game as well as the Arsenal vice-captain but also lacks speed.
It seems, then, that Gabriel will be given more chances to prove his worth after last January’s move from Villarreal.
“We bought Gabriel and we have to give him a chance to develop as a player,” Wenger said. “In training he has shown signs of developing well so I gave him a chance and the team functioned well at Everton, at Barcelona and against Watford. There is not always an obvious reason to change.
“Ideally I want a stability there. But in some exceptional cases, when a team plays against you only on counter-attack, you can consider [change]. But normally I like to play every week with the same central defenders.”