ARSENAL are so desperate for a new central defender that a section of the club’s support tracked the car taking Gabriel Magalhaes to his medical through London’s network of traffic cameras on Monday afternoon. This was after they had monitored the flight carrying the Brazilian into Luton airport.
For many, Arsenal’s need for defensive reinforcements is most pressing this summer and in Gabriel the Gunners have beaten a number of rivals, including Manchester United and Napoli, to the signing of a highly rated centre back who at the age of 22 has time to grow and develop even further.
Gabriel is the epitome of the sort of player the Emirates Stadium outfit hope to make an industry out of targeting in the years to come. Young, technically gifted and potentially undervalued due to the club he plays for and the league he plays in, the Brazilian sets the precedent for ‘New Arsenal's overarching transfer strategy.
Although the point could be made that the precedent had already been set with last summer’s signing of William Saliba. Another highly rated and potentially undervalued Ligue 1 defender, the 19-year-old only arrived in North London a few weeks ago having spent the 2019/20 season on loan at Saint-Etienne.
While central defence was widely seen as the weakest area of Arsenal’s team towards the end of last season, with Shkodran Mustafi and David Luiz the product of a scattergun approach to recruitment in recent years. Now, though, with Gabriel and Saliba in the dressing room, it could be where the face of Mikel Arteta’s ‘New Arsenal’ is clearest.
Of course, these two signings alone won’t be enough for the Gunners to start the new season ready to compete. Arteta’s central midfield needs reshaping, while a new creator or playmaker is surely on the shopping list for this summer once Gabriel has dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s on his Arsenal contract.
But the arrival of Gabriel and Saliba will give Arteta a basis to build upon. Arsenal’s lack of creativity through the centre of the pitch has its root in their defenders’ inability to bring the ball out from the back. That is where the origin of Arsenal’s lack of structure and passing patterns can be found.
The danger is that Arsenal expect too much too soon of a Gabriel-Saliba defensive partnership, something Arteta has already voiced his awareness of. “I know how high the expectations are on him for next year but we have to bear in mind the age that he is at and what he has done in the past,” the Gunners boss warned earlier in the summer, referencing Saliba’s long-awaited arrival. “I will make sure that we create the right environment for him so that he can keep growing as a player.”
So much of Arteta’s task at Arsenal right now is about creating the right environment for players like Gabriel and Saliba. The North London club was once renowned for its track record in harnessing young players and turning them into superstars. That is a reputation Arsenal must restore if they are to stand any chance of establishing themselves as a force again at the top of the English and European game.
The outlook at the Emirates Stadium is much brighter now than it was even a few months ago. Arteta has made more progress in imposing an ideology and setting a tone as Arsenal boss than Unai Emery ever did, but without the right transfer strategy behind him there will always be a ceiling to how much he can achieve. The sight of Gabriel and Saliba as the Gunners’ new first choice centre back pairing would symbolise progress in more than one regard.