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Gabriel Reminds us of his Youthfulness

By Rob Worthington

Since joining Arsenal for £22 million from Lille, Gabriel has been the personification of consistency. Strong in the challenge, powerful aerially and cool on the ball. Sometimes, it’s hard to believe the Brazilian is just twenty-two years old.

However, last night he gave us a little reminder of his youthfulness. The often-dominant central defender got caught in a night-long battle with Southampton’s Che Adams which clearly, he relished. However, what was also clear was that his desire to win the duel got the better of him at times.

Every time the ball came anywhere near Adams, Gabriel was all over him. By whatever means, our no. 6 would ensure the former Birmingham striker would be dispossessed. Unfortunately, on too many occasions for referee Paul Tierney’s liking, the methods of ball retention Gabriel used were illegal.

In some ways, this is something quite refreshing to talk about as an Arsenal fan. Over the course of the last decade, the word tentative has become synonymous with Arsenal defending. Gabriel’s style completely juxtaposes this. He loves getting physical.

The issue, it seems, is that Gabriel struggles to tone that physicality when he needs to. The win at Old Trafford at the start of November springs to mind. Despite carrying a booking for the majority of the second half, he kept throwing himself into challenges. That day, he got away with it. Yesterday, he didn’t.

This aspect of Gabriel’s game is a clear indication of his age. Regardless of the position a player operates in, to be able to dial down their playing style requires maturity. For example, Virgil Van Dijk would likely back himself to win every tackle he has the opportunity to make. Yet, when he’s on a yellow card, he’ll refrain from jumping into tackles. Gabriel doesn’t do that.

In five years’ time, Gabriel will have doubtlessly developed the tendency to adapt his game where necessary. Nevertheless, he currently has a lot to learn in that department. In spite of his strong performances in an Arsenal shirt, perhaps Gabriel’s youthfulness is why we haven’t seen the even more youthful William Saliba alongside the Brazilian as of yet.

Another area of Gabriel’s game which reminded us of his young age yesterday was his perceived desperation to make things happen. Having been voted Arsenal’s Player of the Month three times a row and hitting the ground running in England, the former Lille man is one of few Arsenal players to be brimming with confidence right now. Thus, it seems he’s taken some unnecessary responsibility onto his shoulders.

Gabriel regularly tried passes with little opportunity of completion last night and tried to win the ball back at any given chance. He did too much. At his best, Gabriel abstains from challenges if he has sufficient cover and only makes passes he knows he can make. His eagerness to do that little bit extra is perhaps a reflection of the poor form of the players around him.

However, this keenness to make a positive impact is again typical of an in-form young player. When a young player feels at the top of his game, most are constantly trying the miraculous. For a player like Gabriel, there’s no need to make miracles. He just needs to do what he’s good at.

So, Gabriel will have to sit out of this weekend’s visit to Goodison Park. Mikel Arteta will be hoping his central defender can learn his lesson and be back to his best on Boxing day against Chelsea. Anyway, his performances so far in north London warrant immediate forgiveness. Gabriel will be back.

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