When Arsene Wenger decided to part with £13.4 million (via Daily Star) to bring Gabriel to Arsenal, many may have thought that this was an act of desperation from the boss due to our lack of numbers at the back.
Anyone who really knows Wenger understands that gambling isn’t in the Frenchman’s mantra.
Deeper analysis into Gabriel’s game will show why the boss decided to depart with the highest instant fee (Calum Chambers’ deal is worth £16m over time, via BBC) he has ever paid for a defender in our history.
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Our game is based on fluent, attacking football and that will always be the case. But in the modern game and something we’ve been guilty of lacking in the past is a defensive method to our style of play.
It’s no shame to focus on what your team does without the ball, even if you base your philosophy on possession and positive football.
Think of arguably the greatest club side in history, Barcelona’s all conquering 2008-2011 side, Pep Guardiola emphasised a defensive core to his attacking talents. It may have been revolutionary and something new to modern football, but the way his side hunted in packs to win the ball back was a joy to watch – arguably as easy on the eye as their play in possession.
When asked why was intent on winning the ball back as far away as his goal as possible, Pep replied: “Because we can’t defend”.
It seems as though we’re stuck between the two styles of play; the display against Man City at the Etihad, and the normal flamboyant way Wenger wants to see us enforce no matter where we play.
In order for that to happen however, the boss has to adopt a similar approach out of possession as Guardiola did and in fairness, Wenger has repeatedly referenced ‘winning the ball back quickly’ as something he’d like to see more.
But, for that to be a regular occurrence then all 11 players must contribute – pressing high up the pitch requires more detail than everyone rushing towards the ball.
One player who would suffer in such a style is our vice-captain Per Mertesacker – let’s face it: he’s not blessed with lightning speed across the ground.
This is where Gabriel comes in. Against Middlesbrough we had two centre backs capable of defending on the front foot to keep the pressure on the opposition. If they were caught out, both the Brazilian and Laurent Koscielny have the recovery pace to keep up with any forward.
At 24, he still has some developing to do as a defender but if all goes well, Gabriel maybe the missing piece in the puzzle to the return of dominant, attractive and trophy-winning football.