We can all breathe a sigh of relief. Gabriel Magalhães is FINALLY going to be a Gunner. Fabrizio Romano dropped the bombshell late yesterday – Arsenal have a total agreement now for Gabriel – €30M valuation, player will travel to London tomorrow for his medical, with the official statement to take place next week.
Many of us would have watched the odd Lille game in Ligue 1 and Champions league, but to truly understand what Gabriel is about as a player, we need to get an insight from someone who has watched him week in week out. And for me, there is no one better than SamW, you can find him on twitter @SamW_AFC.
SamW is an Arsenal fan currently based in Lille. This tweet from him is from almost a year and a half ago, when Gabriel was relatively unknown:
I asked him various questions pertaining to Gabriel, here is what SamW had to say:
1.What can Gabriel bring to Arsenal – how big of an upgrade is he to what we have?
SamW: Gabriel has power and athleticism, and he’s also very dominant in the air. More importantly, and that’s been widely reported, he’s left footed. We only have one left footed center back, who’s just arrived and who we don’t really know much about, but Gabriel is definitely a younger and better version of Pablo Mari. I’ve seen quite a few Arsenal fans asking for us to sign Tyrone Mings from Villa: Gabriel is actually quite similar to him in terms of playing style, but better on the ball.
2. What are Gabriel’s biggest strengths and what are some areas for him to work on?
SamW: Let me tell you first that I’ve actually seen Gabriel play in the flesh several times, as I live in Lille and go to matches there regularly. He’s always looked very powerful to me and massive physically. He has that real presence that makes you notice him immediately. He’s a dominant center back, doesn’t give much space to the striker. Good left foot, decent vision, loves to play long balls like David Luiz which Arteta will like, quite clever when it comes to passing the ball out of defence. Rarely goes to ground. He can play in a back 4 or on the left side of a back 3. As I said the other day on twitter, I actually saw him play DM against Saint-Etienne last season, and he didn’t look out of place at all, which shows how good on the ball he can be. He never played there again as it was only because Lille had several injuries in midfield, but it was interesting to see. Like most young center backs though, he needs to work on his concentration, even though he doesn’t make many mistakes, he can sometimes get caught napping a bit. He’s played nearly every game alongside José Fonte, very experienced CB, which probably helped him a lot. Hopefully David Luiz can have a similar role with him.
3. The Athletic reported that the scouting department’s No.1 recommendation was Upamecano, how does Gabriel compare to Dayot and if you were given a choice, whom would you take out of the two?
SamW: Very difficult question. For me they are very close in terms of levels, so picking Gabriel is easy in view of his price. But both are terrific prospects. I’ve actually seen much more of Gabriel so I might be biased here as I watch a lot of Ligue 1 and only occasional Bundesliga games. The thing with Upamecano, as much as I like him, is that there’s something a bit chaotic about him, which is precisely what we don’t want in this Arsenal defence. Gabriel is also taller than Upamecano, which is an advantage in my opinion, especially in the PL. Finally, the fact Gabriel is left footed is a massive bonus, especially as it’s very clear Arteta was looking for a left footed center back.
4. Lille President Gerard Lopez in an interview with Sky a few days back claimed that Gabriel ‘is among the top five dominant central defenders in Europe right now’ – how does he compare with the elite defenders in Ligue 1 and in Europe in your opinion?
SamW: For me the two most promising young center backs in Ligue 1 last season were Saliba and Gabriel (honestly!). It’s amazing that they’re both ours now. Other stand out performers were Fofana (from Saint-Etienne like Saliba), Disasi from Reims (linked to us) and Kamara from Marseille (but often played DM). It’s worth remembering though that Gabriel only started playing at the top level during the second part of the 2018/19 season, replacing the injured Soumaoro at the heart of Lille’s defence. Before that, he’d been on loan to Troyes, where he only played a few games, and Dinamo Zagreb, where he only played once! Since then though, he’s been ever present in a very solid Lille team but he’s still very young and not that experienced. That’s why it’s hard to put him in the « elite » bracket but, like Saliba, I’m convinced he’ll soon be there.
5. Do you think he can seamlessly adapt to the Premier league or does he require a lot of time?
SamW: I think he’ll adapt pretty quickly, because he has the physical attributes to be dominant in such a league. He’s good in the air and likes a tussle, so I’m pretty confident he’ll enjoy it in England. Difficult to know whether Arteta will start him straight away or not though, and same can be said about Saliba.
6. For this price range (reported €30M), is he the best available option for you?
SamW: Definitely. It’s an absolute steal. I’m very surprised Lille aren’t asking for more money.
7. What do you think about a potential Saliba-Gabriel pairing?
SamW: It’s mouthwatering. We’ll finally have two physically dominant center backs, one right footed, the other left footed, so it’s perfect. Both modern, athletic center backs, good on the ball. I’m not sure that’ll be our first choice partnership right from the start but I reckon it will be by december, and what’s great is that our central defence is now sorted for years to come. Both played most of their games with a senior figure alongside them (Perrin for Saliba, José Fonte for Gabriel) so Arteta will probably play David Luiz with one of the two to start with. An other option would be a back 3 of Saliba-David Luiz-Gabriel which could work really well.