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All signed up! Why Arsenal ignored the gaffes and gave Gabriel a new contract

10:00 GMT+3 23/10/2022
Gabriel Arsenal away 2022-23 HIC 16:9
The Brazilian has just been given with a new contract but his powers of concentration are a cause for concern among some supporters.

“You have to always be aware that the line is very thin.”

Those were comments made by Mikel Arteta this week while the Arsenal manager was discussing the competitive nature of centre-back Gabriel Magalhaes.

They came on the back of the Gunners’ 1-0 victory at Leeds United last weekend – a success that was almost snatched away from the league leaders in the closing seconds of a thrilling clash at Elland Road.

With the clock ticking down, Arsenal looked to have survived a second-half onslaught by their hosts to record a ninth win from 10 league games thanks to Bukayo Saka’s 35th-minute strike.

But with the ball safely at the feet of goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale, Arteta’s side were suddenly faced with the prospect of seeing two points disappear following an off-the-ball clash between Gabriel and Patrick Bamford.

Both players hit the floor but, following a chat between referee Chris Kavanagh and his assistant, Gabriel was sent off and Leeds were awarded an injury-time penalty.

Fortunately for Arsenal, VAR got involved and Kavanagh was told to look at the incident again on the pitch-side monitor.

It didn’t take long for him to decide that Bamford had actually fouled the Arsenal man before he kicked out at the Leeds striker.

The penalty was swiftly overturned and Arsenal survived an almighty scare.

But it was a massive let-off for Gabriel, a player who is now gaining a reputation for rushes of blood to the head.

So, is Arteta concerned about the 24-year-old and his ability to control himself?
"If you know how to manage that situation, or where the limits are within the rules, that’s something very personal because of the character of a player,” said the Arsenal boss. “You have to always be aware that the line is very thin.”

When pushed on whether the centre-back crossed that line at Elland Road, Arteta added: “Well, we were very close because the officials already made a decision that had to be overturned by the VAR.”

While Arsenal have been flying this season, Gabriel has perhaps been the one player who has found himself coming in for some criticism during the opening months of the campaign.

It’s not been his overall form that has been called into question, because that has been largely impressive, and explains precisely why he has been given a new long-term contract.

However, his penchant for making a rash error of judgement has been a source of concern among some supporters.

Against Fulham, for example, he had been playing superbly against Alexsandar Mitrovic, but then he got caught in possession inside his own box by the Fulham striker, who took full advantage of the gift to score.

Against Tottenham, with Arsenal leading, he needlessly lunged in on Richarlison to give away the penalty that saw Harry Kane equalise.

It is moments like those, as well as the incident at Leeds, that have led some to question his powers of concentration.

“Your centre-backs, you don’t want them to be spoken about a lot in the games,” Rio Ferdinand said this week while discussing Gabriel on his YouTube channel.

“But every week he’s in the headlines with a little bullet point next to his name and a bad incident.

“I don’t know if you want to replace him. As much as we call him a liability, he’s performing. Time will tell if he’s someone you want to stick by. 

“I don’t like emotional defenders, but if he can grow out of that, you have a good player there.”

And therein lies the issue with Gabriel: take those rash moments out of his performance each week and there is very little not to like.

His performance against Leeds encapsulated him perfectly. 

For 90 minutes he was exceptional, making more clearances (4), interceptions (3) and blocks (4) than any other Arsenal player. He also won 100 percent of his aerial duels.

But only VAR ensured that he didn’t undo all that good work by getting himself involved in a totally avoidable incident with just seconds of the contest remaining.

It’s something Gabriel has to work on, then. But if he can do that, then he has all the attributes to be one of Europe’s top defenders.

As Arteta pointed out this week, “the line is very thin”, but both the manager and the club know how important Gabriel is to the team, as underlined by his contract extension.

Gabriel’s all-round game has improved this season and his Premier League statistics – when compared to the 2021/22 campaign – illustrate that point.

He is averaging more tackles per 90 minutes (1.6 compared to 1.5), more blocks (1 compared to 0.8), more clearances (3.4 compared to 3.2) and more interceptions (0.7 compared to 0.4).

He has won more aerial duels, conceded less fouls and is giving away possession less.

Gabriel’s passing accuracy (90.4 per cent) is also up when compared to last season and he is having more touches per game (73 compared to 70.3).

So, his importance to the side is there for all to see.

“Gabi has shown huge qualities since he joined us," Arteta said, while discussing the defender's new contract.

"He is a young player with a great work ethic and his consistent strong performances have been hugely important to us over the past two seasons.

Since Gabriel arrived from Lille in 2020, Arsenal have won 63 per cent of their Premier League games that he has played. When he has not been involved, they have won just 37 per cent.

They average two points per game with him and 1.3 without him.

So it's obvious why the occasional lapse of concentration by the young centre-back is not really viewed as a major cause for concern around the north London club.

Clearly, there are still some things he needs to eradicate from his game and Arteta will want that to happen sooner rather than later.

But if Gabriel is Arsenal’s major concern right now, then there really isn’t much to be worried about.