Brazilian defender Gabriel Paulista impressed last season when covering in defence for Arsenal and could be in for his breakthrough season.
In the 2013/14-season, goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny shared the golden glove alongside his new teammate Petr Cêch with 16 clean sheets each. However, much of the reason for that achievement most certainly was down to a solid performing defensive pair.
Szczęsny had a decent season, but Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker carried out impressive displays of which the polish international benefitted a lot.
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Wenger has not been willing to entertain the idea of a different partnership at the heart of defence, when both players have been fit.
A lot of Arsenal fans and outside viewers see the ageing Mertesacker, 30, as the weak link in defence and a liability against the better teams. Last summer, the frustration grew even bigger, when Arsenal sold Thomas Vermaelen to Barcelona without signing a replacement despite being down to three centre-backs with youngster Callum Chambers being relied heavily upon from early on last season.
Chambers actually earned praise for his composure, and his display in the Community Shield against Manchester City briefly shifted focus away from the need of another centre-back. Therefore, Arsenal chose not to sign that defender, which would prove to be a mistake.
Along came Gabriel
As usual, injuries seem to stick to Arsenal players as scandals to Bendtner, and Monreal and Debuchy were relied upon as centre-backs with unconvincing success until the signing of Gabriel Paulista from Villarreal in January.
Fans were calling for West Ham’s Winston Reid and Celtic’s Virgil van Dijk, but Wenger opted for the relatively unknown Brazilian. Since then, the 24-year-old has looked decent and shown glimpses of a top centre-back in the making. He’s aggressive, quick and good in duels and doesn’t take many chances in defence.
He needs to improve his first touch and passing as he has struggled a little bit with the swift passes that Arsenal practice but his tackling is impressive.
Gabriel played six games in the league since joining, and many people see him as a direct replacement for Mertesacker next season.
The Brazilian does not have over 100 Premier League games for Arsenal and 104 international caps for his country, but he does have that South American hunger and tenacity, which is admirable to watch and demands respect from the opposition.
Gabriel Paulista’s breakthrough season?
When he signed in the middle of the season, he had no time to settle in; nor did he understand a word of English.
Arsenal needed him to perform straight away, and he did. This time, he will have the benefit of a pre-season start, where he will be instructed thoroughly in the Arsenal way and get to know his teammates on and off the field.
As Mertesacker turns 31 in September, it seems possible to suggest that Gabriel will be replacing the German bit by bit in the forthcoming season.
In addition, Arséne Wenger looks satisfied with his options in defence. He seems to want to focus his attention to needs elsewhere in the squad so that he can build the best team possible of mounting a serious title bid next season, starting with Petr Cech.
Do you think that Arsenal are set in centre defence or do they need one more player?