Let’s start this morning with some hot gossip. Well, if you’ve been reading closely it won’t be that hot, but it’s being widely reported that Arsenal are on the cusp of signing Gabriel Magalhaes from Lille.
Fee is agreed, personal terms agreed, all that jazz. So, what do we know about him? He’s a left footed central defender, Brazilian, 22 years of age (turning 23 in December but until then he remains 22 because that’s how it works), and he made 34 appearances in all competitions for the Ligue 1 outfit last season.
He’s tall, nearly 6’3 (1.90m), and that’s interesting. Arsenal currently have a collection of central defenders who are around the 6′ mark (1.83), and perhaps we lack a bit of presence at times. Pablo Mari, who signed permanently during the summer, immediately stood out because he added some genuine height to the centre of our defence. It’s not to say you have to be super tall to play there, but as a team we’ve felt a bit average size-wise for a while, so to me that’s an interesting aspect to this. William Saliba, by the way, is a similar height and while I know I’m projecting forward in a big way here, the physical profiles of him and Gabriel are very much in line with what you want from a modern central defender/partnership.
The fee is believed to be in the region of €30m, not insubstantial for a club which isn’t flush with cash, and it will obviously increase our financial commitment to Lille as we continue to pay them for Nicolas Pepe. As with any transfer, until the Ts are crossed and the Is are dotted, there’s that anxiety but all going well this should be completed soon and obviously it will have some impact on the centre of our defence. I don’t even mean next season on the pitch, I mean right now, because we currently have a collection that we need to trim down and quickly.
Let’s remind ourselves of what we’ve got and what we’ve got to consider.
He can’t be considered a kid anymore, even if he is still quite young in the life of a centre-half. He’ll be 25 in a few weeks time (until then etc etc), and I think we’re at a point where we have to make a decision on him. With all the information they have, the stats, the data, the up-close and personal judgement you can make by seeing a guy on the training ground every day, do Arsenal believe he can grow into the central defender we all hoped he could be?
If they think there’s still a good chance, you keep him. If not, it’s time to move on, cash in, and go a different direction. He’s English, still with a few years left on his contract, so it’s a pretty good time to sell if that’s what you want to do (Covid-19 notwithstanding, of course).
It’s a very similar scenario to Holding. It’s a bit more complicated by the injury he sustained in January, but we’re now at the point where he’ll be making his way back to full training anyway, so it’s not a guaranteed deal breaker. He’s a bit older than Holding, he’ll be 26 in January, but if you don’t feel like his long-term future is going to be at Arsenal, you have to at least be open to the idea of selling. Has two years left on his current deal.
I’m told Mikel Arteta likes him and views his experience around the training ground as useful, but that hasn’t transmitted into appearances. He was marginalised before the lock-down, and afterwards played a grand total of three minutes in two FA Cup substitute appearances. On that basis alone, it seems reasonable to assume that he’s significantly down the manager’s pecking order.
Back in March he was very clear about how he’d view the idea of just sitting around to see out his contract:
“I have one more year here but me, I never sit on my contract. I don’t care. If I’m not happy, I don’t play enough or the coach doesn’t like me, I don’t care about the contract.
“For me the money is not important, it is important I feel good, I feel happy and the team is happy with me. If not, I take the road and I finish.”
He’s been linked with Napoli this week, and given his age (32), he would surely prefer to play somewhere than just be a nice bloke to have around at London Colney. He has less than 12 months left on his deal, so should be a pretty cost-effective capture for somebody out there.
Like Sokratis is into the final 12 months of his deal. I think his redemption arc was one of the nice stories from last season, but I don’t think it was – or should be – sufficient to earn a new contract. I think it’s a great way for him to leave, it will have opened up options for him that probably weren’t there before because of how well he played (a few moments here and there aside).
Genuinely, I wouldn’t be too unhappy if we just kept him and he went for free next summer. We do need some depth in the squad, and I don’t think we’re throwing a way a big transfer fee by letting his deal run out or anything. If an offer comes in though, we consider it on its financial merits and see what’s what – his recent injury might also play a part in what happens.
I don’t want to sound harsh, because he did well under Arteta, but that he was our best central defender for a significant part of last season really does reflect as much on the set-up of the squad as it does on his own performances.
Everyone loves him, he’s apparently the world’s nicest man, great around the young players, and having just signed a new contract in June, he’s unlikely to be going anywhere. Still, his loveliness as a person is one thing, his on-pitch shenanigans are another. He ended the season well enough, but we can’t gloss over the fact there were times he was an absolute shambles and the record five penalties he conceded throughout the campaign tell you plenty about his performance levels since he joined.
The big question is how well will he fit with Arteta’s plans? The David Luiz you see in a back three is quite different from the one you witness in a back four. That’s the key for me regarding him next season, because if we revert to the latter, his playing time will surely be more limited.
There’s an interesting consideration to the Gabriel signing if it goes through: how many left footed central defenders can you play? I wonder if our pursuit of the Brazilian might have some consequences for the Spaniard. I know he’s a recent signing, but it’s extremely rare for any team to play more than one left footed centre-half at any one time, and if we’re spending a substantial amount on the Brazilian, it’s not to have him as back-up.
One to keep an eye on, anyway.
Right, that’s your lot for this morning. We’re still working on our epic season review post for Arseblog News, but all going well that should be finished today.
More from me here tomorrow, including a brand new Arsecast. Until then, have a good one.