Gabriel earned high praise for his performance against West Ham.
Nevertheless, in review, his display was not as dominant as implied. Arsenal’s 2-1 win over West Ham United was entirely unconvincing. While David Moyes’ men were organised, industrious, and explosive, the Gunners were largely lethargic and sloppy.
Eddie Nketiah’s 85th-minute winner ensured that Mikel Arteta was smiling at full-time, yet the Spaniard made no excuses for the poor performance in his post-match press conference.
One Arsenal player who impressed was Gabriel, who was chosen as the supporters’ man of the match. Starting at the heart of the defence, the Brazilian’s stats were impressive; five clearances, three blocks (one of which prevented a surefire West Ham goal), two interceptions, and two aerial duels won. He also completed 77 of his 83 passes (93%). It is clear why such a great effort was made to sign the 22-year-old; athletic, left-footed, and physically imposing, his ability to play penetrative passes into the second and final third is superb.
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However, in rewatching the match, I believe that the quality of Gabriel’s performance was slightly exaggerated. Evaluating new signings – especially ones which are so demanded – through rose-tinted glasses is normal and completely understandable in the early stages of a player’s new venture. Nonetheless, footballers must be assessed in a balanced manner.
By no means is this an attempt to malign Arsenal’s new acquisition. I was so excited when his signing was officially announced, and I really do hope that he is successful in our colours, I merely believe that he was not as “colossal” as has been implied. Parts of his performance, most notably his penetrative passes and his important block, deserve huge praise. Certain aspects of his display caused concern.
There was one occasion in the first half where he committed himself too aggressively against Arthur Masuaku, who proceeded to carry the ball into a dangerous crossing position. This came following an excellent sliding challenge on Michail Antonio, who proved to be a worthy physical adversary throughout. More importantly, Arsenal’s newest defender misjudged three aerial balls, all of which led to moments of worry.
The first came in the game’s early stages, Gabriel went for a header with Antonio, and the pair overran the ball. Jarrod Bowen then drove towards the penalty area and looked to cut back onto his left foot. Gabriel, who was on the wrong side of the Englishman, made a small attempt for the ball with his left foot, which Bowen made contact with. Michael Oliver correctly decided that the touch was not enough to warrant a spot-kick.
I can understand and forgive one misjudgment. Footballers are only human. However, there were more. The second blunder, where Gabriel was looking to clear his lines whilst under pressure from Issa Diop, forced a VAR review after the ball inadvertently struck his arm. Considering the harsh decision that went against Manchester United’s Victor Lindelöf earlier in the day, the former Lille man was arguably lucky not to concede a penalty.
Finally, he failed to deal with a wicked Masuaku cross, Antonio’s misfire the only thing which prevented West Ham from going ahead. Admittedly, the header which Gabriel was trying to execute was incredibly difficult. Deep inside his area, striker nearby, running towards the middle of his own goal, he had very little room for error. Regardless, he needed to deal with that cross. While having luck is great, it is not something which defenders should rely upon.
Although Granit Xhaka, Sead Kolasinac, and Rob Holding should have done better for the West Ham goal, Gabriel is not exempt from blame. Xhaka and Kolasinac retreated far too much and did not engage Bowen soon enough. As a result, Ryan Fredericks’ bursting run was unabated, and Kolasinac’s failure to block the cross only compounded matters, as Antonio had capitalised on Holding’s hesitancy.
Both Holding and Gabriel were closely monitoring Tomás Soucek, who was joining the attack from deep. This fear compromised their defensive positions. Again, the lack of initial pressure on Bowen was the biggest issue, but as soon as the ball was played to the flying Fredericks, Gabriel had to ensure that he was in a suitable position.
His location relative to his post was perfect; he was shaded slightly outside, giving himself a margin for error if he failed to make decent contact with the ball on its way through. However, sport is all about fine margins. Had Arsenal’s number six been a little deeper, he would have been in a position to rectify the failures of his teammates and intercept the cross. As it was, he was caught in no man’s land.
The caveat to this undue criticism is that young Gabriel has appeared in just two Premier League games, and nobody played well for 90 minutes against the Hammers. We also do not yet have a full understanding of his strengths, weaknesses, and capabilities.
Gabriel has made a mostly positive start to his Arsenal career, but as expected, he is not the finished article.