Arsenal have announced the signing of Lille central defender, Gabriel Magalhães.
The Brazilian defender joins Arsenal for an undisclosed fee, thought to be an initial fee of £23.4m (€26m), with a further £3.6m (€4m) in add-ons. Gabriel joins on a five-year contract and will join his former Lille teammate Nicolas Pépé at the club.
Gabriel represents Arsenal’s first splash of cash in the transfer window this summer. Though the Gunners have already announced the signing of Willian from Chelsea, Gabriel is the club’s first monetary signing.
The signing puts an end to weeks of speculation after Gabriel was tracked by Everton, Napoli, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United, with the saga threatening to never end after the Brazilian wanted more time to assess his options.
Gabriel was initially thought to be joining Everton in the January transfer window and had even gotten as far as to complete a medical with the Merseyside club, however, the deal was called off as a result of Everton’s restricted finances in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Brazilian was thought to be deep into negotiations with Napoli, before Arsenal swiftly intervened ahead of the Italian side, to move into pole position. This isn’t the first time that Arsenal have beaten Napoli to a signing, however, having beaten them to Lucas Torreira, Bernd Leno, Nicolas Pépé and reportedly Kieran Tierney.
The deal was plunged into uncertainty after Manchester United asked the defender to delay his move to Arsenal so as to table a bid with Lille, however, no bid was forthcoming and Arsenal adjusted their personal terms to nudge the deal over the line.
Gabriel flew into London with his agents, after watching Lille’s 1-1 draw with Rennes in Ligue 1, for which he was not part of the matchday squad. It was thought that Gabriel’s move would be confirmed on that same Saturday, however, Lille’s owner Gérard Lopez confirmed that it was club policy to not confirm any incomings or outgoings on a matchday.
Social media was alight with Arsenal fans doing their best to track Gabriel’s movements on social media, by studying the cloud formations in his most recent Instagram posts, which was eerily similar to a number of 4chan users studying flight patterns to discover the location of an art installation by actor, Shia LaBeouf.
Though Gabriel has passed his subsequent medical, the defender is unable to play in Arsenal’s upcoming Community Shield match against Liverpool or train with his new teammates, as he is required to self-isolate for two weeks in accordance with government protocol. Arsenal had hoped that the player would be granted special dispensation to join-up early, however, the UK government has been very clear that Magalhães will have to self-isolate and that no Professional Sportsperson allowances will be made for him.
As a left-footed central defender, Gabriel seemingly fits the bill of what Mikel Arteta is looking to strengthen his team with this season and with Pablo Marí injured for the opening games of the Premier League season, Arteta will be grateful to have another left-footed central defender among the ranks, with Kieran Tierney and Sead Kolašinac deputising in Marí’s absence last season.
Arteta’s first delve into the transfer market saw him sign Portuguese right-back Cédric Soares and the aforementioned Marí, the latter of whom was Arteta’s main demand.
Given Arteta’s penchant for balancing right-footed players with left-footed players, Marí was the Gunners’ first choice signing, with Mykola Matviyenko being touted as a potential back-up. Though Arsenal fans were unable to see much of Marí in his time with the club, his impact has been clear.
As a result, Arteta has begun to balance his defence, whether it be a back three or back four, with a left-footed player to somewhat mixed results. Initially, Arteta chose to deploy Sead Kolašinac as the main central defender, however, the Bosnian did not impress in the role and was dropped from the side following a nightmare performance against Tottenham Hotspur. From there, Arteta chose to entrust the position to Kieran Tierney, who plays in the role regularly for the Scotland national side and had occasionally played there for Celtic too.
It is for this reason that Arsenal have opted to sign Gabriel. Fans are no doubt clamouring to see him line-up alongside William Saliba, who joined Arsenal from AS Saint-Étienne last season, but it seems unlikely that Arteta would entrust two very young central defenders with Premier League football so early in their careers, especially given Arsenal’s opening Premier League fixtures, which include trips to Anfield, the Etihad, Old Trafford, Elland Road and the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, all in the opening eleven matches.
Gabriel represented Lille thirty-four times in all competitions last season, scoring one goal and receiving six yellow cards, a remarkably low number for a central defender. Crucially for Arsenal, he made no errors leading to goals and conceded no penalties, which is in direct contrast to David Luiz, who set a Premier League record last season for being the first defender in history to conch five penalties in a single Premier League season, a feat he achieved in Arsenal’s 3-2 win over Watford on the final day of the season.
Gabriel will wear the number six shirt for Arsenal, previously occupied by Laurent Koscielny, who left under a shroud of controversy for Bordeaux last summer.
Arsenal will be glad to have the signing finally over the line, especially as the new Premier League season is just over two weeks away. But with a three-year contract extension for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang edging ever closer and the signing of Gabriel, Arsenal can turn their attentions to the outgoings of players and focus on other major deals that need to be completed, such as their reported pursuit of Thomas Partey from Atlético Madrid.