Arsenal have reportedly beat Napoli and Manchester United to the signing of 22-year-old centre-back Gabriel Magalhaes. Mikel Arteta will hope that with the Brazilian and 19-year-old William Saliba in his squad, he can finally resolve the Gunners’ perennial issues in central defence.
Despite only coming to prominence this season, Gabriel has shown enough potential to suggest that he can become an outstanding modern centre-half.
Gabriel’s most notable attribute is his long passing. He excels at breaking through lines of opposition pressure with balls over the top, usually spraying the ball wide for pacy attackers like Jonathan Bamba or Victor Osimhen or switching the play from left to right. His 7.12 pressured long balls (completed long balls while under pressure) per 90 and 7.97 unpressured accurate long balls per 90 illustrate the frequency and accuracy with which he executes these long passes.
What makes Gabriel’s passing even more potent is his ability to weight his long balls in a way that prevents onrushing forwards from breaking their stride. Even though Arsenal ranked 18th in the Premier League for long balls last season, having a player who can play these type of long-range passes accurately is a useful option for the Gunners – especially in bigger games when they seek to counter-attack more.
However, Gabriel is less adept at breaking lines with passes along the ground. He prefers to opt for a safe pass to his fullback rather than passing into the centre. It’s difficult to assess if this is due to his passing limitations or whether this is a deliberate ploy from Lille manager Christophe Galtier. What is clear is that he must become more comfortable with this type of passing if he is to become a truly all-rounded ball playing centre-back. Given his age and superb technical quality, though, it’s reasonable to assume that he can make such improvements.
Gabriel tends to be somewhat passive and cautious when defending. While many other talented centre-backs in Europe such as Dayot Upamecano, Caglar Soyuncu, or indeed Arsenal’s Saliba frequently step out of the defensive line to pressure opposition players, Gabriel prefers to hold his position and play closer to his own box. Given that the Brazil u20 international will likely be partnering Saliba – either next season or in future campaigns – it makes sense that Arsenal would acquire a defender of this playing style.
The youngsters greatest defensive strengths lie in his physical attributes. He wins 3.56 aerial duels per 90 (or 71%), is extremely mobile, and is robust in defensive duels. While he is adept at cutting off passing lanes in his own box, his reading of the game when higher up the pitch can improve. His anticipation of passes and awareness of opposition attackers’ movements can be suspect when in his own half. He also tends to hang back from the defensive line, pushing the entire defence backward in the process. Given that Arsenal try to play a high-line, it’s imperative he improves in this department.
Gabriel is certainly an improvement on most of the Arsenal back-line and is talented enough to inspire confidence in Gunners fans that he can be part of the solution to their defensive woes. His playing style should complement the more proactive Saliba well, his ball progression should give Arsenal a different dimension to their build-up play, and his aerial dominance and confidence defending his own box should go some way in making the north London outfit a more assured defensive outfit.
Should Arteta stick with a back three to accommodate David Luiz, Gabriel may take time to adapt to an unfamiliar defensive formation. His aforementioned positional issues could also lead to defensive errors early on in his Arsenal tenure.
But with the right coaching, Gabriel has the physical and technical qualities to become an excellent centre-back. He’s an intelligent acquisition and will be an integral part of Arteta’ Arsenal revolution.