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.