Gabriel Magalhaes deserves more respect as the force Arsenal needed for years

  • William Saliba gets the hype, but Gabriel Magalhaes is the centre-back Arsenal have needed for years

Manchester City v Arsenal FC - Premier League
Manchester City v Arsenal FC - Premier League / Danehouse Photography Ltd/GettyImages
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William Saliba is the so-called "Rolls-Royce," but Gabriel Magalhaes is the nasty-talking, rough-housing centre-back Arsenal have waited years to build a winning team around.

William Saliba is pretty good at football. You might have heard. Don't worry if you haven't, because there's no shortage of people to wax lyrical about Arsenal's French central defender, but you won't hear as much about fellow centre-back Gabriel Magalhaes.

The lack of full-throated, public fanfare for the unfashionable Brazilian is ironic, since he's the player Arsenal had lacked for years. Gabriel is the fire-breathing, brute-force bulwark for the Premier League's best defence.

Never shy with his emotions, Gabriel is the vocal force who keeps his teammates in line and focused. He also keeps the opposition ducking for cover. Just ask Erling Haaland, after the usually prolific No. 9 drew a blank during Arsenal's 0-0 draw at Manchester City on Easter Sunday.

The result was creditable in brass tacks only. An invaluable point in a tight title race, albeit one earned with the kind of bus parking that makes Jose Mourinho dance a jig, but Arsene Wenger blush with shame.

Mikel Arteta doesn't have Wenger's frankly fanatical devotion to footballing purity. The Process King proved as much when he parked the bus to beat City 1-0 back in October.

That result marked another blank for Haaland, who becomes shot-shy when facing Arsenal's formidable defensive tandem.

It's hardly a surprise Saliba dominates the photo Football on TNT Sports used to caption this post. The Frenchman dominates the plaudits from media, pundits and fans alike in much the same way.

Saliba's easy to like. A towering presence, who's still a naturally elegant and physically imposing athlete. One who was spotted and signed by Arsenal back when he was just a teenage prodigy. The hipster endorsements write themselves.

Still, it's high time more chatter was dedicated to Gabriel's positives. Especially since his own noise making benefits Arsenal so much.


Gabriel is Arsenal's underrated noise maker

To borrow and butcher an analogy from Jurgen Klopp, you could score Saliba's highlights with classical music. Any symphony easy on the senses and calming for the mind. Alternatively, a Gabriel highlight reel ought to be scored with thrash metal, the kind that only starts working once your ears are bleeding.

Maybe because nobody wants to admit they like thrash metal, or maybe because so many want to pretend they enjoy the classics, Gabriel remains underrated. Just ask Arsenal Women's skipper Leah Williamson, who named the 26-year-old the most underrated in England's top flight when speaking to ESPN UK.

That's a fair description of the kind of vocal leader every team needs at the back, but Arsenal went too long without. Defence is the one area where players need to talk, to demand, to motivate, to generally have a moan, but most of all, reorganise.

Those things take an on-pitch general, or a quarterback for the back line, if you'll permit some cross-over sporting terms. Gabriel is that for Arsenal, and his weekly instruction is just as important as Saliba's pace, height, timing and technique.

It's not like Gabriel is a slouch in any of the latter areas, but they're not his core attributes. That distinction belongs to how he anticipates danger, how he reshuffles the line and how he motivates those fighting for his cause and intimidates those scrapping to deny him.

Haaland learned all about how Gabriel wards off threats. Physically, City's force of nature was no match for Arsenal's immovable mountain of muscle.

Mentally and verbally, Gabriel destroyed Haaland, at one point yelling 'stop diving' at the retreating frontman. Haaland had resorted to taking a tumble after getting no change from a centre-back delivering a near-flawless performance.

Those verbals to a tamed foe perfectly encapsulated the meaner spirit and brash attitude of Arteta's team. It's a personality shift made possible by Arsenal having the right kind of noise-maker at the back.


Gabriel is no William Gallas

Arsenal haven't had a vocal leader like Gabriel since Sol Campbell was at his peak. Campbell's peak was brief, but he was a powerhouse who bullied strikers on the deck and owned them in the air. All while unleashing a tirade of commands to his teammates about how to keep the shape and defend resolutely.

Those attributes made Campbell manna from heaven for Wenger, who didn't necessarily avoid confrontational players, but he didn't always trust the right ones. Take Campbell's successor William Gallas as the prime example.

Rarely short of a blunt opinion or two, and always athletically gifted, Gallas was quickly deemed captain material by Wenger in 2006. Yet, instead of manifesting as a fiery leader who demanded more from those around him by instruction and example, Gallas became known for damaging petulance.

A senior player setting himself apart from those he deems are not delivering only erodes team spirit. Gabriel has instead become the magnetic presence who draws this Arsenal team together.

His rugged, dirty work allows Saliba to play to this strengths and win the style points. More importantly, Gabriel is the voice of Arsenal's louder, nastier title challengers.


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