Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has revealed that he bought defender Gabriel Paulista with the intention of making him a first team regular.
The Brazilian arrived at the Emirates Stadium in the January window for a fee in excess of £11 million from Villarreal, but only made his first Premier League start in the 2-0 win over Everton on Sunday.
After a slow start the 24-year-old grew into the game and pulled off a superb tackle to deny Romelu Lukaku a clear goalscoring chance. Now Wenger has confirmed that Gabriel is set to have an extended run in the first team.
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The Arsenal boss said: I cannot tell you [who will start tomorrow]. At the moment I have not decided yet. We bought Gabriel to hold down a regular first-team place and of course that’s what the target is for him. His English is not perfect yet. He understands more than he speaks.
“But he has shown that he’s a defender who’s committed, focused and can integrate well into our defensive system. For a first game [against Everton] it was a very positive one.”
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That could spell trouble for the much maligned Per Mertesacker, who was the man to miss out against the Toffees. The German international was at fault for DImitar Berbatov’s key goal in Monaco’s shock 3-1 win against the Gunners in the last 16 of the Champions League and has faced a barrage of criticism.
Wenger refused to confirm if the World Cup winner would be reinstated tomorrow, but did concede he faces a fight to get his spot back in the long run. “We are all here to serve the club and rise above our own individual interests,” he explained.
“Mertesacker has played many games and he has a fantastic mentality. He has a great stature, mental stature that is absolutely remarkable, and his contribution to the team has been excellent since now. There are periods where people are a bit less in form and that happens to everybody.”
Per Mertesacker has been held up as a scapegoat for Arsenal’s failings which seems remarkably unfair. The defeat against Monaco was a team failing and not down to one individual although it goes without saying that the German didn’t cover himself in glory for the second goal.
If Wenger does decide to drop him for the rest of the season then it has to be only because Gabriel is playing better, not just because he is looking for a convenient scapegoat.