Gabriel Magalhaes: Who is Arsenal's new signing? Why is he so highly rated?

The 22-year-old is joining Arsenal - how will he fare switching to the Premier League?

Gabriel Lille
Image: Gabriel Magalhaes has joined Arsenal - but why is he so highly rated?

Arsenal have got their man and beaten off competition to get him. Former Lille defender Gabriel Magalhaes is an exciting purchase for the Gunners - but why is the Brazilian centre-back is so highly sought after?

Gabriel is set to join Arsenal on Sunday after they agreed a £27m fee with Lille for the defender.

Arsenal have beaten off competition from Premier League rivals Manchester United, who held late discussions with the player's representatives, Everton and Italian club Napoli to sign the 22-year-old.

Gabriel joined Lille from Brazilian side Avai for just £1.5m three years ago and has featured in the Champions League - playing twice against Chelsea in this season's group stages.

Promising centre-halves are a rare breed, let alone left-sided ones. At 22 years old, Gabriel is far from the finished article, but his host of suitors proves there is a quality defender in there.

Gabriel has spent brief loans with Troyes and Dinamo Zagreb
Image: Gabriel has spent brief loans with Troyes and Dinamo Zagreb

Factfile

Age: 22

Position: Centre-back

Also See:

Nationality: Brazilian

International caps: None - capped at Brazil U20 level

Background

Gabriel started his career at Avai, a side who currently play in the second tier of Brazilian football.

After 21 appearances he made the move to Europe in January 2017, signing for Ligue 1 side Lille for a fairly modest fee of £1.5m.

Gabriel initially struggled to adapt to senior football at Lille and went out on loan twice. First to Troyes, where he spent the first half of the 2017/18 season, before a temporary move to Dinamo Zagreb in January 2018.

First-team opportunities continued to evade him, moving between the reserve and senior sides before returning to Lille for the start of the 2018/19 season.

Will he adapt quickly to the Premier League?

Gabriel took his time to cement himself in the side, not starting a Ligue 1 game until February 2019. But he has not looked back since; forging a relatively successful partnership with former Southampton player Jose Fonte at centre-back.

After a seven-year absence, Gabriel helped Lille qualify for the Champions League in 2018/19, finishing second in Ligue 1 behind PSG.

Gabriel has continued his ascent this season, with a string of impressive performances both domestically and in the Champions League.

What are his key attributes?

Gabriel Lille
Image: Gabriel Magalhaes has joined Arsenal - but why is he so highly rated?

Although Lille finished bottom of Group H, they faced Valencia, Chelsea and last season's semi-finalists Ajax. Starting all six group games, Gabriel's performances alerted some of Europe's biggest clubs.

No Lille player has attempted more forward passes this season (578), while only his defensive partner Fonte has completed more passes than Gabriel's 1219. A league-high 255 of those were completed into the opposition half.

Gabriel completed the most passes into the opposition half in Ligue 1 last season - ranking second for forward passes and 16th for winning aerial duels
Image: Gabriel completed the most passes into the opposition half in Ligue 1 last season - ranking second for forward passes and 16th for winning aerial duels
This graphic shows Gabriel's distribution in the Champions League this season, revealing the majority of his passes are played just inside his own half down the left flank and directed upfield
Image: This graphic shows Gabriel's distribution in the Champions League this season, revealing the majority of his passes are played just inside his own half down the left flank and directed upfield

The Brazilian scored in Lille's 2-1 win at Strasbourg in February, and he has been an aerial threat at set-pieces throughout the campaign. Only five centre-backs have had more attempts on goal than him (17).

Arsenal will no doubt be impressed by Gabriel's character.

At the age of 13, he showed dedication to his career by taking a 12-hour bus journey to Florianopolis to join Avai having been born and raised in Sao Paulo's Pirituba district. Upon his arrival at Lille, he taught himself French and now conducts interviews in the language.

Were it not for the coronavirus pandemic, Gabriel would have featured for Brazil's U23 Olympic side in friendlies set up against Croatia and Egypt this month. The year's long-term goal was to defend the gold medal won at Rio 2016 in Tokyo.

With the sporting event now postponed, another obstacle emerges. Gabriel turns 23 in December, meaning he will not fall within the age group to play football at the Games, but the hope is that the International Olympic Committee and FIFA will make exceptions next summer for those who would have been eligible to play this summer.

Where will he fit in at Arsenal?

Arsenal have been in the market for a left footed central defender - and they have snapped a very accomplished one up.

Centre-back Gabriel can cover a rampaging left-back, with the majority of his defensive actions made down that flank, while also clearing things up in his own penalty box
Image: Centre-back Gabriel can cover a rampaging left-back, with the majority of his defensive actions made down that flank, while also clearing things up in his own penalty box

Gabriel's arrival means Arsenal have eight central defenders in their first-team squad. David Luiz, Pablo Mari and William Saliba recently signed contracts or joined the club, so look part of Mikel Arteta's plans while Rob Holding has three years remaining on his contract; expect those five to be who Arteta chooses from next season.

Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis Papastathopoulos have entered the final year of their deals and there seems no signs of the club opting to renew those players while Calum Chambers - back from a serious knee injury - could also be offloaded to free up some funds.

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