28 January 2015

Gabriel Paulista sings, "I wanna be your Martin Keown..."

...or so sing Sleater-Kinney might sing. It's actually "I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone", but in the signing of Gabriel Paulista, we might have something of a chant ready-made for the Brazilian defender. With his transfer from Villareal to Arsenal officially announced on Wednesday, we have a #5 who, in time, could remind us in his own way of other famous defenders to wear the number, namely, Martin Keown, to whom Gabriel offers more than a passing resemblance. His addition bolsters a sorely-lacking position and one that urgently needs updating. With Mertesacker sinking slowly (by what other means would he sink?) and Koscielny aging, we need to find centre-backs who can learn and in short order take over from them. In Gabriel, we may have found the heir-apparent to Koscielny, and, before him, to Keown.

Too soon? Aye, perhaps a bit too soon....
We've had a fair-few centre-backs come through the club since Keown's day, but none perhaps as memorable as he was: Campbell. Touré. Cygan. Senderos. Djourou. Vermaelen. Gallas. Would any among them, save perhaps Campbell, merit a mention in the annals of Arsenal's history? It's unlikely.

I hope I'm not making too much of Gabriel. He looks like he could become a very, very good centre-back...in time. As it currently stands, he offers something closer to raw potential than finished product, given that he's made only 37 appearances for Villareal in La Liga and zero appearances for Brazil at the international level. As such, it's hard to assess just how ready the 24-year old is to contribute. Perhaps the comparisons to Keown—be it based on squad number, position, or physical appearance—is a bit unfair.

A more-apt comparison might be made to Laurent Koscielny, another centre-back who joined the club at age 24. There have been hiccups, to be sure, but Kos has emerged as one of the lynchpins of the Arsenal defense. At age 29, he still wreaks havoc and runs amok, blending aggressive tackles and interceptions with increasingly-astute positioning. Kos might have another five years of top-flight performance still in him, but it's far from too early to start grooming a successor. Should Gabriel prove ready to deputize for him, so much the better.

Like Kos, Gabriel is a quick, aggressive defender who excels at dispossessing opponents and who, at the moment, relies more on that quickness than on wisdom to achieve his goals (or deny the goals of others). A great deal of Kos's game is based on his quick reactions and willingness to go in for a tackle, knowing that Per is there to mop up. So may it be for Gabriel and Chambers, who in coming years could gradually assume the burden that the Kos-Per pairing has shouldered. Chambers could play Per to Gabriel's Kos, playing the more-conservative role in support of Gabriel's marauding forays in the middle of the pitch.

Long story short, Gabriel might not be quite ready to slot in for Kos, but he brings a skill-set and mentality that suggests that, once Kos starts to straggle, he'll be chomping at the bit to shoulder the load. Heck, he may even be ready for a run-out on Sunday against Aston Villa—if the game is in hand.

27 January 2015

Middlesbrough, eh? Bring it on!

Continuing a run of favorable draws, we've been pitted against Championship side Middlesbrough, whose reward for seeing off Man City in the fourth round is a dare to see if they can do the same to us in the fifth. After previous seasons in which we've drawn in various competitions Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham, Everton, Borussia Dortmund, and Bayern Munich, it might come as a welcome change to face off against the Brightons and Middlesbroughs of the world. Then again, we had our own troubles against the Seagulls and should heed the cautionary tale offered by Man City's experience. Put simply, anything can happen in the FA Cup and frequently does, our own experience a year ago notwithstanding. On paper, drawing Boro might feel more comfortable than drawing yet-to-qualify Man U or Liverpool, we—as the old saying goes—should be careful what we wish for.

26 January 2015

Gabriel Paulista received work-permit approval from Home Office, deal done today?

In a move that all but clears the way for Gabriel Paulista to join Arsenal, the club have received formal approval for his work-permit, and he is undergoing a medical at London Colney. It looks as if a transfer free of £11.3m has been agreed with Villareal, and we'll be spared the long, drawn-out sagas we experienced with players like Vela and Campbell, who ran up against tougher resistance to acquiring those work-permits in the past. The FA's Home Office was willing to set aside the "player of highest calibre" requirement that stipulates a player appear in 75% or more of his home country's competitive matches. The centre-back could be available to play as early as Sunday against Aston Villa., with Arsène stating that the deal could be done before today's FA Cup draw.

25 January 2015

Tomáš Rosický, Arsenal legend? Yes. A thousand times, yes.

Perhaps no sequence better sums up Tomáš Rosický than that which led to his sumptuous goal. After an innocuous pass that launches an attack deep in Brighton's defensive third, Rosický watches as Giroud's too-cute flick is scooped up, and he pounces on the Brighton defenders too-tame side pass, side-steps a clumsy tackle, and delivers a deft look-away pass to Giroud just inside the area. As three defenders converge (more or less) on Giroud, Rosický floats to the top of the area and awaits Giroud's well-weighted chip, which he coolly volleys home, slicing and swerving around a defender and under the keeper. It's the kind of sequence that Rosický has delivered time and time again—but has he done so often enough to earn a spot among Arsenal's legendary players? Could he enter the hallowed antiquity currently inhabited by the likes of Henry, Bergkamp, and Adams? Why not?