Football

Gabriel could make Arsenal debut against Middlesbrough

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Arsene Wenger has hinted that Gabriel Paulista could make his Arsenal debut against Championship side Middlesbrough this weekend.

The 24-year-old centre-back completed an £11.3 million move from Villarreal in late January but has yet to feature for his new employers.

However, Wenger hinted in Friday's pre-match press conference that the Brazilian defender could make his first appearance for the Gunners against Boro on Sunday afternoon.

Wenger: Gabriel is close to making debut

The veteran French coach was quoted by the Daily Mail as telling reporters: "Gabriel is very close to making his debut.

"He has the ability, good pace and he's good in the air."

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Who will Gabriel replace?

Wenger, if he does intend to hand Gabriel his debut this weekend, must decide whether to hand a rest to Per Mertesacker or Laurent Koscielny.

While Mertesacker is marginally the older of the two defenders, Wenger may opt to hand the latter a well-deserved rest.

It was revealed in October that the France international had been playing with acute tendinitis in both Achilles tendons for the season, and it's believed that the problem still exists.

Koscielny, who scored his third Premier League goal of the season during Arsenal's 2-1 win over Leicester City on Tuesday night, possesses a playing style more similar to Gabriel's than the less dynamic Mertesacker.

Gabriel's excellent form this season

Gabriel caught the eye of both Arsenal and Manchester United after playing an instrumental role in Villarreal's excellent form prior to his big-money move to the Emirates Stadium.

The Yellow Submarine went unbeaten from early November up until February 1, by which point the South American defender had departed El Madrigal.

Few Arsenal fans will have been aware of Gabriel prior to the rumours linking him with a move to the Emirates Stadium, but supporters will be keen to catch their first glimpse of their latest signing this weekend.

Gabriel could put pressure on Koscielny and Mertesacker

The Brazilian will need to produce a convincing performance against Middlesbrough and ensure Arsenal book their place in the FA Cup quarter-finals to put pressure on both Koscielny and Mertesacker for a potential starting berth against Crystal Palace next weekend.

Arsenal have conceded more goals than any other club in the Premier League's top five this season and Wenger needs to decide on his most reliable centre-back partnership heading into the most decisive months of the campaign.

In truth, Wenger is likely to stick with Koscielny or Mertesacker - but Gabriel could upset the apple cart by making a big impression this weekend.

Should Gabriel replace either Koscielny or Mertesacker in Arsenal's defence this weekend - and will he be the Gunners' first-choice after that? Have your say in the comments section below.

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Topics:
Football
Premier League
FA Cup
Arsenal
Arsene Wenger
Middlesbrough

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