Three first-team omissions appear to have cast doubt on Gabriel Magalhaes’ future at Arsenal, but close inspection of his recent absences suggests any such concern is wholly unjustified.
Although rumours circulated that the 25-year-old may soon depart for Saudi Arabia, Mikel Arteta has insisted he will play a lot of games this season and assured fans there is “nothing going on” with Gabriel behind the scenes – indicating that his lack of minutes simply owes to important tactical decisions.
Acceptance of this theory can be expedited via understanding of why Gabriel is missing out, which likely relates to the troubles endured by fellow absentee, Oleksandr Zinchenko.
The former Man City star has only just recovered from a persistent calf injury, and it was his layoff (and the lack of a like-for-like replacement) that prompted Arsenal to instead invert from right back for the opening three matches.
Our full-back experiment has given Arteta better tactical flexibility as the team can now build up on either flank and thereby always create numerical advantages to bypass opposition pressing, all while mostly maintaining the same style of play.
Nothing to see here – Gabriel is still an important part of the Arsenal project
However, to invert from the right would leave Arsenal with their weakest ball progressor (Gabriel) as the middle defender in a three-man backline, and he would have to bear the chief responsibility for engineering progression through central areas.
This prospect may help explain Arteta’s ‘tinkering’ because, by installing William Saliba at LCB and inverting Thomas Partey, he has a more accomplished progressor in the heart of defence and can also deploy an extra man to outnumber the opponent in midfield – an ambitious strategy which, while resulting in Gabriel’s benching, is ideal for games against low blocks.
Furthermore, rotation is just part of football now and has grown in popularity due to ridiculous fixture schedules that force players to compete in 50+ domestic games per year, in addition to their regular international commitments.
These demands mean teams must carefully manage workloads to ensure they can stay competitive over a gruelling, ten-month campaign, and our safety-first opposition up to this point means it is Gabriel’s turn to rest.
Critics attribute the Gabriel situation to needless experimentation and even suspect player/manager relations have become strained. However, it seems entirely possible that injuries forced Arteta to act and have made the team more tactically versatile – something which might prove beneficial when fighting on multiple fronts later.
History and managerial sentiment tell us Gabriel remains at the heart of this project and will earn plenty of game time this campaign. We are merely reaping the rewards of having strength in depth.