Arsenal planned to replace star defender Gabriel last summer

  • Arsenal spooked by Saudi Pro League interest
  • Gabriel played just 24 minutes in first three Premier League games
  • Brazilian enjoyed superb season
Gabriel garnered interest from the Saudi Pro League last summer
Gabriel garnered interest from the Saudi Pro League last summer / Marc Atkins/GettyImages

Interest from the Saudi Pro League for centre-back Gabriel spooked Arsenal last summer, so much so that the club drew up a list of replacements for the Brazilian international.

Affectionately known as 'Big Gab' in these parts, Gabriel has gone from strength-to-strength since joining the club from Lille in 2020. The Brazilian is an imposing, aggressive defender who loves to assert himself on the contest, and his increased maturity has seen him develop into one of the Premier League's leading centre-backs.

The 26-year-old played a crucial role alongside William Saliba in Arsenal's stellar 2023/24 campaign which cruelly ended without silverware. Gabriel was forced off on the final day through injury having been a mainstay in the XI following the closure of the summer transfer window.

Arsenal planned to replace star defender Gabriel last summer

Mikel Arteta, Gabriel
Mikel Arteta left Gabriel out of his starting XI amid links of a move away / James Gill - Danehouse/GettyImages

There were murmurs last summer of Saudi Pro League interest in the 26-year-old, although Mikel Arteta was quick to explain Gabriel's omissions from his starting XI at the start of the season as tactical.

Gabriel had played every single Premier League game in 2022/23 but was limited to just 24 minutes of action during Arsenal's first three games of the new season.

There was a tactical switch with Oleksandr Zinchenko out injured and Thomas Partey performing an inverted role from right-back, but the primary reason for Gabriel's early-season absences was the potential of him leaving the club.

The Athletic writes that Arsenal believed an offer for the defender from a Saudi club was imminent towards the end of the summer window and, as a result, the Gunners drew up a shortlist of potential replacements. Marc Guehi and Aymeric Laporte would've been considered by the club had Gabriel moved on.

The decision to move Gabriel on, had a deal been struck, would've undoubtedly been questioned by the fanbase, and the defender's continued improvement means we can count ourselves fortunate that the Saudi Pro League never came calling. Gabriel has certainly produced several 'bozo moments' - some might call them brain fades - throughout his Arsenal career, but his continued maturation this term means such sequences are now incredibly rare.

At the time, Gabriel's sale, even for big money, would've been queried rather intensely. In hindsight, it may well have been a catastrophic error. But he's still here, thankfully, and he'll continue to be a cornerstone of the Mikel Arteta project which promises immense success.