Brazil is a nation that is renowned for producing world-class attacking players. But over the past few years, it has started to produce some quality centre backs as well. Thiago Silva, Miranda and Marquinhos to name a few. One player who could very well be in that list of top Brazilian’s centre back is Gabriel Paulista. The 24-year-old has been one of the standout defenders in La Liga in the last 18 months and has justifiably made the step up to Arsenal. So, who is this Brazilian that Arsenal have just signed? Is he the centre back that the Gunners have been craving for? For all this and more just read on.
Gabriel Armando de Abreu, better known as Gabriel Paulista was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil in November 1990 and started his career at Brazilian club Vitoria. By the age of 19, he had already made his senior debut against Camacari in the Campeonato Baiano championship. Paulista made his league debut a couple of months later and soon started to establish himself in the starting XI.
His appearance in both the finals of the 2010 Copa do Brasil was the beginning as Paulista played a crucial role for his side. 2013 wasn’t only the year that his club were crowned champions, but also the year that saw Paulista elected as the best central defender of 2013 Campeonato Baiano. In the summer of 2013 he moved to Villareal where he has since made 50 appearances before the switch to Arsenal for around £11m.
Style of Play
One of the things that is immediately striking about Gabriel Paulista is the amount of time he seems to have when he is defending. In many ways, he can be compared to Laurent Koscielny before he made his move to Arsenal. Someone is strong in the air, capable of leading a defense and also has an eye for danger. Although primarily employed as a centre back, Paulista has shown during his time at Villareal that he is quite capable of holding his own as a full back on both flanks. Given the Gunners lack of cover defensively that versatility will come in handy, although it is likely that Paulista is employed predominantly in his preferred position as a centre back.
Paulista’s biggest strength is his reading of the game. His ability to snuff out danger means that he is an asset that the Gunners have long been craving for. This means that his interceptions are through the roof and it is no surprise to see that he is second on the list of most interceptions in La Liga, higher than Sergio Ramos, Nicolas Otamendi and Diego Godin. The 24-year-old loves a challenge and doesn’t back down from 50-50 challenges, which is refreshing to see in a modern centre back. His aerial ability is good as well and he has shown that he can not only defend, but also play the ball out from the back, which will be important at Arsenal.
Although he is competitive and likes to go for the loose ball, sometimes, Paulista seems to lack the defensive discipline to simply maintain the shape and not chase lost causes and try a tougher, more expansive through ball when a simple one would suffice. And although he is good in the air, he can sometimes be bullied off the ball by stronger forwards, which is something he must work on, now that he is in the Premier League, which is far more physical than La Liga.
Although he has only played 50 games in Europe, Gabriel Paulista has shown that is versatile and can adapt to his surroundings. Given the respective ages of Mertesacker and Koscielny, one of the things were looking at is to find an experienced defender to take over and show the youngsters the way. Although he is only 24, Paulista has the composure to lead the defense and the maturity to do what is right. His ability to both attack when needed, and defend without giving it too much thought means that he is a perfect fit for Arsenal, one who will relish the Barclays Premier League.