Since Arsenal lifted a record 14th FA Cup with a 2-1 victory against Chelsea on the 1st August, Mikel Arteta has been proactive in the transfer market as he seeks to assemble a squad ready to challenge for Champions League football next season.
Having signed Willian on a free transfer after his contract expired at Chelsea, Arteta has outlined his priority: Brazilian centre-back Gabriel Magalhaes.
When French newspaper L’Équipe recently announced their Ligue 1 Team of the Season, it wasn’t Brazilian stalwart Thiago Silva who appeared, but his compatriot Gabriel, following an exceptional season at Lille.
As a student of Pep Guardiola, Arteta has been vocal about the importance of having a left-footed centre-back in central defence to help facilitate playing out from the back. This was something he looked to address with the signing of Pablo Mari in January, but the Spaniard is currently out with a long-term ankle injury. Arteta’s desire to fill the void left by Mari’s absence demonstrates how highly he values a left and right-footed combination in the heart of defence.
The glaring problem with Arsenal’s pursuit of Gabriel is that there are already seven central defenders currently at the club, following William Saliba’s arrival after the end of his loan at Saint-Etienne. Consequently, Arteta will have to shift players out before new ones can come in.
The most likely players of those seven to leave are Sokratis, who has attracted interest from Napoli and Roma, and Calum Chambers, who is wanted by newly promoted Fulham having spent time on loan with The Cottagers in 2018/19. Mari and David Luiz have signed new contracts and remain part of future plans, whilst Shkodran Mustafi’s hamstring injury means he is unlikely to attract any suitors.
This leaves Rob Holding, who has performed well in patches, but lacked the consistency required to nail down a starting spot in a side with top-four ambitions. The 24-year-old may be happy under Arteta, but is he really good enough to become a top-quality talent?
In short, the answer is no, hence why Arsenal have turned their attentions to Gabriel. Holding made only six Premier League starts last season and has made just 39 league starts in the four seasons he has been at the club. Although he provides solid depth, he is far from the finished article, with his deficiencies when playing out from the back regularly apparent. In the FA Cup final, he was given a torrid time by a 33-year-old Pedro, who beat him far too easily down the left flank on a number of occasions.
Gabriel’s blend of superior pace, mixed with assuredness and accuracy whilst in possession, would make him in an ideal fit in a restructured shape that would see Arteta revert to a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 for next campaign. The Spaniard’s switch to a back three post-lockdown was viewed as a way of giving the defence greater protection whilst allowing Arsenal to maintain a cutting edge in attack.
Overall, the capture of Gabriel would represent a major coup for the Gunners, as they will have to fight off competition from Napoli to secure his services, having outlasted Everton and Manchester United in the race to sign the Brazilian. The Brazilian is said to prefer a move to north London, but it is far from a done deal at this stage.