After a run of just two wins in their last nine Premier League games, Arsenal are all but certain to miss out on the title that should have been theirs. In Europe, hopes of beating Barcelona and avoiding a sixth straight exit in the last 16 of the Champions League were effectively over after the first leg last month, and even dreams of a third consecutive FA Cup triumph have now met a dismal end as well.
Through all of the fails and near misses of the last decade, the problems have always been the same. Poor defending has cost Arsenal at every turn and there can be nothing more frustrating for supporters when the current squad contains so many technically gifted attacking players.
Gunners fans have grown up knowing top class defenders and a team that was difficult to beat. For years there was the famous back five with Tony Adams and Steve Bould at the heart of it. In the 'Invincibles' era it was Sol Campbell at his peak, partnered by an emerging Kolo Toure. Martin Keown was a born winner and always a fierce competitor, while an older generation enjoyed watching Frank McLintock play.
These days, Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker aren't a patch on those former greats, but even they are a bastion of quality and reliability when compared to Gabriel Paulista - an individual who wears the same number five shirt previously occupied by McLintock, Bould, Keown, and David O'Leary, who has played more times for the Gunners than anyone else in the club's history.
To put it bluntly, the Brazilian is not an 'Arsenal defender'. For a club whose great wealth of past success and glory has always been built on unyielding defensive strength and stability, he's a total liability and nothing more than an accident waiting to happen, one that will cost game after game after game given the opportunity.
Consider the Premier League clash with Manchester United last month - a fixture for which Arsenal were pre-game favourites and needed to win in the context of the Premier League title race. Gabriel was preferred to Per Mertesacker and was just awful. It was his botched clearance that caused the first goal, his poor positioning and lack of awareness that caused the second goal and his failure to get tight to his man and close the space that caused the third goal. All three times the same United forward got the better of him - not Wayne Rooney or Anthony Martial, but Marcus Rashford, an 18-year-old on his domestic senior debut.
Earlier this season against Chelsea, Gabriel's red card at Stamford Bridge - a needless one after getting involved with Diego Costa over something that didn't even concern him - effectively lost Arsenal the game. Floundering Chelsea couldn't buy a win at the time, but they could beat Arsenal with a man advantage thanks to Gabriel and the initiative he handed over with reckless behaviour.
Reckless behaviour also threatened to wreck Arsenal's chances against Watford just this weekend. As it was, the Hornets won the FA Cup quarter final anyway, but it could have been far worse had Gabriel been sent off in the first half for a horrific challenge on Troy Deeney, as he deserved to be. He was off the floor, flew in with two feet and could have inflicted serious damage on the Watford player after planting both sets of studs firmly on Deeney's leg. The fact he wasn't even cautioned when the referee was stood no more than 10 feet away was laughable and miraculous.
Arsenal more than most have been sensitive when it comes to those type of out of control challenges because of the injuries suffered by Eduardo da Silva and Aaron Ramsey in the past. Such tackles won't win games and are more likely to cost them. Gabriel was also lucky he didn't get booked for another overzealous tackle later on in the same game and there are more examples of poor defending from plenty of other outings this season.
Eyebrows were raised when the relatively unknown Sao Paulo native was signed for £11m from Villarreal in January 2015. He barely played in his first few months because of a significant language barrier and, even now, Arsene Wenger has questioned whether communication is still a big problem. Gabriel subsequently rebuked such comments, but just the issue being raised at all suggests that something is not quite right. After more than a year with the club, not understanding enough of the language just to get through a game is plainly not good enough, and not indicative of a bright future.
Plain and simple, Gabriel is a problem for Arsenal and they won't be able to get to where they want or need to be with him in the team.
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