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Just who is Gabriel Magalhães, Arsenal’s new transfer target?


It’s well known that Arsenal are in dire need of a centre-back who is both capable of defending and is composed on the ball. As it stands, Arsenal’s current centre-backs (Mustafi, Luiz, Holding, Mari, Chambers, and Saliba) are all either unreliable, injury prone or in need of experience and going into Mikel Arteta’s first full season in charge of Arsenal, there is real need for a solid foundation at the back and the beginning of a spine to emerge. Could Gabriel Magalhães be the man to imitate this?

Gabriel dos Santos Magalhães of Lille OSC is a Brazilian centre-back who has been heavily rumoured to be joining Arsenal. This scout report will analyse and break down Gabriel and what he will bring to Arsenal.


Gabriel is a 22-year-old, left-footed centre-back who currently plays for Lille in France.  The São Paulo born Brazil U23 international joined Lille in the 2016/17 season from Brazilian side Avai FC for £2.7 million. He spent the first half of the 2017/18 season on loan at Troyes in France, where he made 4 appearances. He later returned and spent the back end of the season on loan to Dinamo Zagreb’s 2nd team. A more successful spell saw Gabriel make 11 appearances and score 2 goals.

In the 2018/19 season, Gabriel made 17 appearances in all competitions for Lille, playing 1243 minutes. This season Gabriel has gone on to make 34 appearances and has played 3187 minutes in all competitions. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, Ligue 1 was prematurely ended, on match week 28. Gabriel’s Lille finished the season in 4th, with 49 points. They were 1 point of third place Rennes and 7 off second place Marseille.

What is Mikel Arteta looking for in an Arsenal centre back?

First of all its important to understand what Mikel Arteta is looking for in a centre back. It’s clear that Arteta is after a player who defends just as capably as they can involve themselves in possession. A left-footed ball playing centre back suits this and has been somewhat of a priority for Arsenal in recent windows. This is because, the balance and poise offered when playing out from the back and the improvement this will have to Arteta’s positional play, will be invaluable to Arsenal. As well as being technically proficient, an Arteta style centre back needs to be strong, tall, quick and sturdy. They need to be more than capable when being drawn into uncomfortable positions, especially in the wide channels, against brutish forwards.

It’s important that this player has a big personality to control and lead the back line. This is something only time will tell, should Gabriel sign, but from what I can see, Gabriel should find his voice quite quickly. Reading of the game is vital for a Premier League centre back, as is understanding your position and where to be at all times. He needs to be smart and not get caught ball watching, otherwise counter attacks may cause real issues for him. Lastly, given Arsenal’s possession game, his anticipation to ensure skilful and pacey players get very little out of him needs to be high.

In Possession

Gabriel is a very classy and refined passer of the ball and his distribution across the pitch is vast. Gabriel is calm, composed and controlled; and can pick a precise pass with ease. Gabriel isn’t one to necessary dribble the ball out of defence in order to beat the first wave of pressure, which may something to work on. Having Gabriel will mean Arteta no longer needs to shoehorn either Kieran Tierney or Sead Kolasinac into the left sided centre back position, in a back three. It must be mentioned however, Gabriel has played few games in a back three, so adjustment time may be needed, with Lille opting to play a 4-2-3-1.

Per 90 minutes, Gabriel plays on average 51.87 passes per 90 minutes and of his total 1837 passes, he has completed 86.55%. In Ligue 1, Gabriel ranks 14th for passes per 90 minutes and ranks 6th for progressive passes per 90 minutes with 11.46. Furthermore, Gabriel has played 7.87 long passes per 90 minutes and has a success rate of 50.17%,. Further enhancing this aspect of Gabriel’s game, is his 9.12 passes to the final third and 22.70 forward passes per 90. He also receives 35.92 passes per 90 minutes, showing the trust his teammates have in him.

As previously mentioned, Gabriel doesn’t dribble with the ball all too often. This is shown through his 0.31 dribbles per 90 minutes and his 0.87 progressive runs per 90. This may be an issue against high pressing opponents as Arsenal need someone to carry the ball through the pressure.

Contribution To Possession

It’s so important that aside from defending, Gabriel is capable in possession. At Lille, they play a relatively expressive game with plenty of flair and passing however, aren’t truly a possession based side. It would certainly appear that at Arsenal, Arteta wants for the team to have the ball and move it with great efficiency and this all needs to start from the back. If Arsenal can master playing out from the back, then they can best set-up moves, sequences and patterns which breakdown the opponents. This is so dependent on the capabilities of the defenders and how they deliver the ball out from defence.

Gabriel is somewhat of a deep-lying playmaking metronome. His 0.29 expected goals build (XGBuild-up per 90) is on the higher side for centre backs in Ligue 1. This is especially true, if you factor in those who have played as many minutes as he has. Gabriel’s contribution to passing moves which end in shots and key passes (XGChain per 90) is relatively high as well, with 0.39. This is quite impressive given Lille only scored 35 goals before Ligue 1 was halted and have on average 12.5 shots per game.


For all the fan fair surrounding how good Gabriel is on the ball, the biggest judgment will be on how well he defends. Gabriel’s style is very much that of someone who reads the game and situations ahead of time. He isn’t going to charge into a challenge gung-ho, but rather arrive to the duel at the right moment to disarm his opponent.

In all competitions, Gabriel has made 5.5 defensive challenges per 90 minutes and has a success rate of 71%. Regarding interceptions and ball recoveries, Gabriel makes 5.6 and 12.3 per 90 respectively. Further reinforcing Gabriel’s style, is his season total 14 slide tackles (winning 9 of them). This just goes to show that Gabriel isn’t going to be diving in and commit rash challenges. Moreover, Gabriel has made 112 clearances this season and 4.98 counterpressing recoveries. This is a very high amount per game. At 6”3, there are few who can comfortably challenge Gabriel in the air. Of his total 172 (4.9 per 90) aerial challenges in all competitions this season, Gabriel has won 66% of them. In the League, this ranks 16th, with Loic Perrin in first attempting 8.76 per 90 minutes.


In conclusion, Gabriel clearly meets all the facets and conditions asked of a modern centre back who could play in a progressive Arsenal side. He is strong, tall, good on the ball, brave and consistent. Other than a foot injury in 2019, which kept him out of 2 games, it would appear, Gabriel is relatively injury free. Something Arsenal fans can very rarely say. The one weaknesses, however, is his dribbling. Whether it’s against teams who drop off or ones who press high, he needs to be comfortable on the ball and committing opponents. Aside from this, for £22-27 million, Gabriel is an absolute steal. The credentials he shows at just 22, show him to be a perfect long term Arsenal centre back. Both he and Saliba could well form a menacing duo which is the spine to many an Arsenal team for the next decade. A truly exciting thought.

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