20 January 2015

"Welcome" to Arsenal, Gabriel Paulista?

Apparently, a deal is done that would bring Brazlian centre-back Gabriel Paulista from Villareal to Arsenal with an initial free of around £6m and rising to above £10m, while Villareal holod out for an offer that would meet a release-clause of some £15.25m. Spains's Cadena Ser reported the news earlier on Tuesday, but, of course, nothing more official has emerged. For what it's worth, Cadena Ser is Spain's oldest and largest (by audience-share) radio network, and its reputation for reliability seems to fall somewhere between The Sun and The Independent. The story does pass various versions of the smell-test. Relatively unknown player to whom we've not been linked? Check. Technical skills and versatility? Check. Dithering and dickering over transfer-fees? Check. And mate.

Whether this all amounts to another Higuaínian farce or ends up with Gabriel holding up a jersey next to a smiling Arsène remains to be seen. Before we get ourselves too worked up, let's add in one more caveat: work permits. Gabriel is not yet entitled to a work-permit because he has not yet played in 75% or more of his national team's matches. In fact, he hasn't played for Brazil at all. While it's true that there is an appeal process based on whether the player is "of the highest calibre" and able to "contribute significantly to the development of the game at the top level in the UK", it's hard to tell how successful an appeal would be—if we are in fact after him. I'll let people with larger brains (a long list, let me tell you...) suss that stuff out if and when it becomes necessary. For now, let's kick the tires on the player himself.

The man is versatile enough to play centre-back but also either side in a three-man defense. This would certainly augur well for his ability to slot in with Koscielny or Mertesacker and suggests that he could be tapped to play wide if the situation demanded. Between those two, he seems to be much more like Koscielny, quick and aggressive and going in for tackles and interceptions. Might this lead to a situation similar to when we paired Vermaelen with Koscielny to mixed results? Possible. If there's a silver lining to that, it's in the fact that Villareal have conceded the third-fewest goals in La Liga, behind only Real Madrid and Barcelona, and Gabriel has been instrumental to that.

Key to Villarreal's form has been a solid defensive platform from which to launch their rapier counter-attacks. Only Barcelona and Real Madrid have conceded fewer goals than Villarreal this season (tied on 17 with Valencia and Sevilla), and Gabriel has been a crucial component of that miserly back line. He's particularly adept at interceptions and effective clearances, which could help to launch quick counters (if we're to borrow from the template used against Man City...).

For those worried about the fee rising to £15.25m, that is still comfortably two Bieliks below our reported kitty of £20m, even after adding in an actual Bielik. Face facts, though: it's January, and we might be acquiring an experienced, versatile, first-team, 24-year old centre-back who has held his own while helping his club do the same against Real Madrid and Barcelona. Was a better centre-back available in the summer-window? If you muttered "Vermaelen," you owe me 50 push-ups. We hardly needed another centre-back the wrong side of 30, and that eliminates Vidic, Agger, and Ferdinand. We need someone who can step in on a regular basis. Koscielny's Achilles Heel is his Achilles Heel, and Mertesacker is already looking a bit leggy. Chambers at 19—er, 20—is still raw. The emergence of Coquelin might be just enough to cover our needs in the defensive midfield, at least well enough to help us see of Man City at the Etihad.

At a time when it's hard to see us getting any marquee-signings, the pursuit and possible acquisition of Gabriel might pass muster as a very shrewd signing. I'll put it to you, Gooners: would this signing give us the depth and strength we need to climb the table, or should we be setting our sights on someone else?