Anyone who has watched Arsenal over the last 30 years will read the title of the blog and think one of two things I suspect. They may think and correctly, that is a huge compliment for Arsenal’s newest central defender and they may also consider the compliment a tad premature.
However having deputised superbly for Arsenal pitch captain Per Mertesacker the Brazilian stopper looks set to make his international debut in the coming week. Far be it from me to second guess the judgement of Brazil’s coach Dunga but he should know enough about positioning and defending. Defending was an evident downfall under Scolari and lead to a huge disappointment for the Samba boys in their home World Cup and it would appear the new boss is looking for different qualities. The traditional defensive qualities that Gabriel Paulista would seemingly have in abundance will serve his country but ironically from my perspective they are not necessarily the typical traits of a Brazilian centre back but they are certainly those of an archetypal English one.
Martin Keown himself is on record as being an admirer or Gabriel and even last season was suggesting that it was he that would be the long term partner for Koscielny rather than the tall German veteran. Keown himself a swift defender has often commented on Mertesacker’s lack of pace and also his leadership most notably after the 3-1 home defeat to Monaco when Gabriel was preferred to the German for the next match v Everton:
‘I don’t think you can point the finger at one player after the Monaco game. It’s a big chance for Gabriel now, though. I think it could be a defining moment in changing Arsenal’s back four now, for sure.
‘Mertesacker, with the experience he has in the game, should have been calling these young players back the other night, the two full-backs were just drifting up the pitch and not coming back.
‘When he’s been left isolated one-on-one he struggles due to his lack of pace too. Gabriel is keen to defend so he’ll be relishing this opportunity to stamp a claim for a first-team spot.’
Seaman who marshaled our best defences has a view
Now once again I defer to those who know more than I about top class defending and Keown is one of the best I have EVER seen but the praise who Gabriel has not just come from that quarter but also from a colleague of Keown’s, the one and only David Seaman. Seaman in April also indicated in an interview with the Independent that he saw in Gabriel the solution to Arsenal’s defensive frailties as he assessed them:
“Yes, I think he can solve that problem [in defence]. With Paulista, he reminds me of a cross between Des Walker and Martin Keown, that’s who he reminds me of. I don’t know why. The way that he plays and looks just reminds me of that, but he’s had a few injuries and it will take him some time to adjust to the Premier League, because it does.”
The highest of praise from Seaman describing him as a blend of 2 of England’s greatest. The Arsenal Legend went on to suggest that it might take Gabriel a while to get used to the physicality and the pace of life in the Premiership but given that he had barely played for months his display alongside a decidedly shaky Calum Chambers against Liverpool was nothing short of spectacular.
His performance, in particular, in the first have when the team was inviting problems with poor clearances and woeful passing was certainly Keownesque! Superb reading of dangerous situations, brave blocks and headers, quick recoveries and perfectly times challenges, all the hallmarks of MK.
Fabulous v Liverpool along with Cech
On leaving the ground ultimately feeling pretty down the two things that prevented me being completely downcast were the performances of Cech and Gabriel. On the tube as I sat lost in thought I heard one bloke moaning to his mate about Arsenal’s display to which his mate responded – “Well one positive was Gabriel, he’s the new Keown!” I smiled to myself and though you‘re bloody right there. Sort of reminded me of the AwayBoyz lyric:
“I was down the pub the other night and my mate said to me I’ve see the new Ian Wright! I said to him, how can that be, he said to me Thierry Henry.”
Now I have seen so many people, including those whose opinions I respect. suggest that it is Per and Kos or Chambers and Gabriel because Gabriel and Koscielny are too similar. Whilst I understand that central defences are made of partnerships and blends, perhaps more than any other team partnership I just don’t buy it. Yes both are quick and have many similar strengths but that is hardly a problem for me and crucially the Brazilian has a great leap and will attack the ball.
They both seem like intelligent footballers and I do not see this as a Vermaelen and Koscielny repeat because unlike the Belgian Gabriel seems to have discipline and to just love to defend. Whilst our ex-skipper could defend he never seemed to ‘love’ it and treat it as an art form, as I know Keown did and Gabriel appears to do. Tommy would often rampage up the pitch without thinking, in search of goals and glory perhaps, leaving Kos isolated. In those days of course we did not have Coquelin or for that matter full backs who understood when to push up and when to sit. I have seen nothing nor have a read anything that remotely suggests that our new Brazilian wants to do anything but defend.
Tackles timed like this would have made Keown punch the air!
Per is not getting younger and he will never get swifter but as with Arteta what a fabulous player to have around the place and on the bench. However I personally hope that the Gabriel/Koscielny partnership is the future for this Arsenal team. I could be proved wrong as we have not seen the Brazilian over a long period but is it likely that Keown, Seaman and Dunga are all off the mark?
I look forward to seeing how he does in the next 2 Brazil games on the 6th and the 9th versus Costa Rica and the USA respectively. I hope he gets his chance, makes his presence felt for his country and comes back unscathed to face Stoke.
I will finish the blog with this Wenger description of Gabriel:
“He has got a good technique and he’s also highly committed and very motivated. If I was to sum up his qualities I would say that he is a very sharp player, and has a very good, positive aggression. He’s got quick feet, is strong in the battle, very good in a one-on-one situation and just fantastic in the air.”
I lied actually that was Arsene Wenger on Martin Keown in his testimonial programme but I bet you all believed me!
Wenger however did actually days this about his January signing:
“Gabriel will be a great central defender, believe me”
I do Arsene, I do.
To the tune of One Song – “Keown he is the new Keown!!”