Over the past couple of weeks, Gabriel has been put through the works in more ways than one. Seeing him break down in tears after the Southampton game, just two days after Brazillian football club Chapecoense were involved in a tragic plane crash, was absolutely devastating.
Yet he admirably soldiers on, clearly moved by the recent disaster.
Just 16 minutes had passed in the Bournemouth game on the 27th November, when the recently resurrected Mathieu Debuchy was forced off with yet anther injury that is set to keep him out until the new year. This wouldn’t be such a huge issue if first-choice right-back Héctor Bellerín was available, so a replacement was needed. With Carl Jenkinson not on the bench that particular day, in stepped Gabriel with his first game on the right side of defence for Arsenal.
I have to say I was initially slightly worried about this decision, with Mustafi being a capable right-back after playing there several times for Germany, he was my preferred option. However Gabriel was very solid in his new role. Against tricky, fast Bournemouth forwards Callum Wilson, Joshua King and Jordan Ibe, I was surprised with how well he performed. He looked confident when defending, and made frequent runs down the right wing to help on the attack against a relatively stubborn Bournemouth back-line.
Don’t get me wrong, he’s no Héctor Bellerín, but he certainly did his job, and for that you can only applaud him. My doubts about his role were crushed after Carl Jenkinson put in a performance Emmanuel Eboue would be proud of against Southampton in the EFL Cup. Gabriel had to be the first-choice in that position, at least until Bellerín or Debuchy return.
Should The Gunners be lucky enough to have Bellerín, Debuchy and Gabriel fit and healthy at the same time, Gabriel would be third choice, for me. Debuchy still offers a lot, and although his game time against bournemouth was very limited, he showed glimpses of quality in the opening stages of the game, which makes me believe that he still wants to play for this club.
Is Gabriel the answer though, or does his long term role at the club remain in the centre of defence? I’m in favour of the latter, for several reasons. Firstly, I’m trying really hard not to jinx this but should anything happen to either Koscielny or Mustafi, playing Gabriel at right-back would mean that the inexperienced but talented Rob Holding would have to step in. I’m assuming this because of Carl Jenkinson’s below par performances recently. He’s had his chance and he has not improved at all, and Gabriel should be ahead of him in the right-back pecking order.
It’s certainly not a bad position to be in. Most premier league teams don’t have three or even four options at right back,so the strength in depth is remarkable, and it’s one of the reasons why I think that Arsenal could do so well this season.
Although Arsenal fans should be happy with his recent performances under difficult circumstances, the quality of opposition that Gabriel has faced over the last few games hasn’t been particularly strong. This has me worried if he comes up against some quality opposition, with more dangerous wingers, which will now most likely not happen as Héctor Bellerín is back in training, just in time for big away games against Everton and Manchester City.
Overall, Arsenal have a plethora of players who could competently play right-back, even players not mentioned in this post such as Francis Coquelin, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Maitland-Niles, but I’m happy that Gabriel is able to play there. He has looked comfortable on the ball, and he deserves a chance to establish himself as an important member of the squad.
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