Gabriel Magalhaes – An in depth look at Arsenal’s new number 6
By James Whiffing
Arsenal have been in desperate need of defensive reinforcements for what feels like years now, but thankfully, it seems like Arteta and Edu are finally addressing the issue, with the likes of William Saliba, Kieran Tierney and now Gabriel Magalhaes being added to the squad as the foundation of a young, promising backline for the Gunners. Gabriel was signed for a fee rising up to around £27 million from Ligue 1 side Lille, with the club beating the likes of Manchester United, Napoli and Everton to the Brazilian’s signature.
Gabriel Magalhaes’ Background
Gabriel is a Brazilian centre-half who has previously played for Avai FC, in the second tier of Brazilian football, before earning a move to Lille. After loan spells to Ligue 2 side Troyes and Croatian side Dinamo Zagreb, the 22-year-old broke into the Lille starting XI, making a total of 34 appearances for Lille last season and scoring once. Gabriel played a key role for the French side last season, with the Brazilian producing a string of impressive performances to help ‘Les Dogues’ clinch a Europa League place for next season.
Gabriel Magalhaes’ Strengths
One of Gabriel’s many strengths is his aerial ability. Last season, the 22-year-old won 71% of his aerial duels (which is a higher percentage than the likes of Sergio Ramos, Thiago Silva and Matthijs De Ligt) whilst also winning 3.49 aerial duels per 90. His 6’2 frame, when partnered with his decent jumping ability, makes the Brazilian a real force in the air; both in his own box and in the opposition box. Plus, with the addition of the new set-piece coach Andreas Georgson and new centre-back William Saliba, the Gunners don’t look as though they’ll be conceding many goals from dead ball situations anymore.
On top of his aerial prowess, Gabriel is also very athletic and pacey for a centre back; he defends in a very explosive style, which counteracts and compliments Saliba’s calm and patient approach; another reason why the two should be a brilliant defensive duo in the years to come. The Brazilian also possesses a great deal of strength. When watching him play for Lille, we frequently see him shielding the ball and using his body to block other players off the ball. Gabriel averaged an impressive tackle success rate of 85% last season for Lille whilst also making 7.93 pressures per 90; these stats once more highlights his explosive, combatant style of defending.
Additionally, to Gabriel’s defensive strengths, the Brazilian is a great reader of the game. The 22-year-old positions himself very well for oncoming opposition attacks; examples of this could be when he would stop passing lanes (for example, in ‘cutback situations’) with his long legs, or when he would position himself to block a shot; this is something we saw Gabriel do constantly for Lille.
Now, let’s move to his on the ball strengths. Gabriel is a decent ball playing centre half, although there is definitely room for improvement. The former Lille man averages a pass accuracy percentage of 82%, although his long ball percentage stands at 72%. This is because the Brazilian is brilliant at spreading/switching the play to the opposite wing to the full backs and wingers, but when he tries to deliver a long ball more centrally, it doesn’t work as well for him since it is more congested in the middle of the pitch than out wide; there is more room for error.
Gabriel’s ball progression skills are also very good and promising, with the 22-year-old making 2.33 progressive passes per 90 and 4.40 final third entries per 90 last season for Lille. These stats show that Gabriel’s on the ball ability is decent and well above average for someone of his age, although there is room for improvement, and expect Arteta to administer significant improvement to Gabriel over time to turn him into a top centre half.
Gabriel Magalhaes’ Weaknesses
One thing Gabriel could improve on is his marking. Due to his explosive and aggressive style of defending, he sometimes leaves a free man in the box; he should check around him to make sure there are no opposition players which he would be leaving unmarked before committing to a challenge. Similarly to the point above, he needs to also improve his awareness; the Brazilian is sometimes caught ball watching instead of being aware of who is around him and who he should be marking.
One more weakness, as mentioned briefly above, is Gabriel’s limited passing range. The former Lille man can be too predictable with his passing on occasions; he normally chooses the wide option when there is a better and more clear option in the centre of the pitch.
How will Gabriel fit into Arteta’s system?
We all knew that Arteta wanted a left-footed/left-sided centre back, so it was no surprise to see him setting out to pursue Gabriel, especially after the breakthrough season he has had. It is most likely that the Brazilian will line up next to David Luiz and William Saliba on the left hand side of a back three for the majority of the season.
Arteta normally tells his defenders to hold on to the ball for a while to draw the opposition on to them before unleashing a long ball to one of either Aubameyang or Pepe (depending on which side the ball is) to run in behind and score. We’ve seen it on numerous occasions with Kieran Tierney; when the Scotsman is played as a left-sided centre back in a back three, he draws the opposition on to him, which allows Aubameyang much more space further up the pitch. Tierney then plays a long ball out to Aubameyang for him to race in behind and score; just like for the second goal against Manchester City in the FA Cup Semi-Final, and when Aubameyang won the penalty in the FA Cup Final against Chelsea.
My point is, Arteta will use Gabriel’s strength of spraying long balls out wide to help utilise Aubameyang’s ability to run in behind from a long ball as he has done from Kieran Tierney several times. Also, being in a back three will help to try and nullify Gabriel’s weakness of marking and at times being too aggressive; the back three accompanies his explosive style since if he does get caught out of position, there are still two other centre backs to get round.
In the seasons to come, I expect Arteta to deploy a back four with Gabriel and Saliba as centre-back partners. The two compliment each other very well, with Gabriel’s explosive and combatant defending style completely counteracting Saliba’s calm and patient style, whilst the two are both strong and quick as well as solid in the air. Obviously, the pair are both still young, but with Arteta and his coaching team, hopefully any slight issues/bad habits within the two can be ironed out; they are a duo with lots of potential, and with the likes of David Luiz around to mentor them both, the ceiling looks very high for the future of the Arsenal defence.