How do you solve a problem like Magalhães, Arsenal’s “forgotten” man? Sell him?


Last season, Gabriel Magalhães was a rock. He and William Saliba formed one of the best centre-back pairings we’ve seen in the Emirates era. Two matches in to the 2023-24 season might feel too soon to be asking questions, but I can’t be the only one who’s wondering why Magalhães, free from injury, has only played 24 minutes so far. That number is almost surely inflated beyond what Arteta planned; he sent Magalhães to help defend a precarious lead over Palace after Tomiyasu was sent off. There have even been transfer rumours emanating from Saudi Arabia and Real Madrid. What gives?

Is this perhaps a power play from Arteta, whom some allege is culpable of acting vindictively against players he deems insufficiently subordinate? Guendouzi and Aubameyang come to mind…but that’s weak. Each player had committed numerous violations on and off the pitch. What’s more, Magalhães hasn’t been seen to grumble or fuss in the slightest. He just renewed his contract ten months ago. Those who’d paint Arteta with such a brush will have to produce more paint or pipe down.

As to Magalhães’s reduced role (four minutes against Nottingham Forest, 20 against Palace), I’d submit that the issue is largely tactical. With Zinchenko and Timber both injured, Arteta doesn’t have anyone who can play that inverted fullback role that is so effective. In their absences, then, he’s asked Partey to slot in at RB and to move into that inverted fullback role, allowing Havertz and Rice to push up the pitch in what becomes something more of a 3-2-5. Havertz, for what it’s worth, has now covered 23.2 km in these two matches, most in the squad. With Partey at RB, White, who is too good to be dropped, slides over to the centre-back position (his primary role before joining this club). Magalhães might be a better aerial defender and tackler, but White is much better with the ball at his feet and can also get up the pitch to join the attack and then recover. Against opponents like Forest and Palace (and perhaps Fulham), we can afford to defend with Tomiyasu and Saliba hanging back as Partey and White get forward.

Magalhães’s ostensible omission isn’t a window into Arteta’s vindictiveness. If anything, it’s a suggestion that Arteta’s sense of tactical necessity is evolving if not improving. Even if injuries to Timber and Zinchenko have tied one hand behind his back, Arteta is at least showing that he’s creative enough to devise solutions that make sense for the opponent we’re facing. Neither one of Forest or Palace relies extensively on crosses into the box; neither one features a physically imposing forward either. With that in mind, Magalhães’s physical presence and aerial dominance are less vital than White’s craft and guile with the ball at his feet.

This weekend against Fulham might have seen Arteta restore Magalhães to his starting role had the Cottagers not sold Mitrović, the kind of brute-force battering ram Magalhães is designed to stop. They did sign Raúl Jiménez from Wolves, but he’s a striker of a different sort, even if he feels a desire to exact revenge from that awful clash of heads with David Luiz a few years ago. With that in mind, we may again see Magalhães play a reduced role.

Who knows, though? Circling back to Arteta’s evolution, we may be seeing him adopt a more-versatile, adaptable approach to positions, formations, and tactics. He’s talked about wanting to be less predictable, and one short-term victim of that looks to be Magalhães, at least until Zinchenko returns to fitness. The Ukrainian did come on for a very late cameo in the 89th minute against Palace, so he may not be quite ready for a start against Fulham just yet. HIs return to that inverted fullback role from the left would presumably mean that White would return to RB and Magalhães would be restored to CB alongside Saliba.

Ahead of a somewhat tougher match at home to Man U in ten days’ time, Arteta may use this weekend’s match against Fulham as a chance to continue exploring his options. For now, with the transfer window set to close on Friday at 11pm BST, I think we can rest assured in believing that we won’t be selling Magalhães. There isn’t enough time to find and bed in a suitable replacement.

Long story short? We’re seeing a manager learn to adapt and evolve in real time. In the short term, this may mean that key players will have to accept reduced minutes…almost as if keeping them fresh over the course of a long season in which we hope to contend on four fronts, including the Champions League, will be vital. Heck, it’s not as if we’ve seen recent run-ins derailed by injuries…have we?

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4 thoughts on “How do you solve a problem like Magalhães, Arsenal’s “forgotten” man? Sell him?

  1. Palladio43

    It is distressing if not concerning how often articles about Arsenal players and their absences, proposed, or impending departures include, as theories or explanations, that the player has run afoul of Arteta, that Arteta is being vindictive, that there is an attitude problem, etc.
    The rise and fall of players, one day the solution to a specific positional problem and the next day barely seen on the bench and best ng offered to any taker for any price is not heartening. Is this typical of every squad and manager to the extent we have seen throughout the Arteta era? Can it be attributed to a concerted effort to improve the team and seek better and better players? Is it a result of trying to make square pegs for into round holes and then blaming the pegs for not fitting? Is it arrogance and a desire to prove oneself right now matter the result or whether the strategy was ever correct? Is it childish petulance that should, at his age, have been outgrown? Is it a personality flaw that may never be resolved and will never result in success, but will always be blamed on the failure of others ( whoever they might be)?
    We are nearing the point where few players remain that can be blamed as being the fault of predecessors or the lack of funds. Who will be left to fall on the sword or seen to have made a poor judgement? While many departures and arrivals have been judged as wise or prudent, too many seem erratic or inconsistent and only explained as a rift or disagreement with the manager or his attitude. Can this ever result in overall success?

  2. A Simple Truth

    as I mentioned in a previous thread, MA unequivocally stated that Gab’s two match benching had nothing to do with interest from the abroad, but was simply part of a multi-faceted tactical plan which would see him return to the lineup against those teams where playing inverted backs wouldn’t be prudent…not sure I buy this line of logic or believe that our manager would have actually passed a polygraph on the matter, were it administered at the time of his presser, but I’m quite pleased that MA is at least trying to solve his singular script problem…with that said, I’m more than a little worried about the very real possibility that MA doesn’t have the capacity to properly spread his tactical wings, which could lead to a whole host of square peg/round hole shoehorning and post-match finger-pointing…I would suspect that another more learned manager might have pulled the chute, for the time being, and opted for a more familiar back 4 against Palace, considering Timber’s injury and Zinchenko not being available to start, instead of trying to lean into his untested and ill-suited agenda…of course, I seriously hope that he can find a way to reinvent his tactical wheel, as it’s clearly required, just not sure yet that what he’s devised makes the best sense from a personnel standpoint…how ironic

  3. palladio43

    A man was walking through the forest and saw a number of trees with bullseyes painted on them and with an arrow centered in each of these targets. He was duly impressed and, moving on, he came to a clearing where he saw an archer.
    “Are you the archer who shot all those arrows I saw in those targets?” he asked. “Yes”, came the reply.
    “Could I watch your form and technique so that i may learn from you?”. “Certainly”, came the reply.
    Thereupon, the archer took an arrow and fired it at a nearby tree. After the arrow struck the tree, the archer then took up a bucket of paint , went to that tree, and painted a bullseye around the arrow, with the arrow, of course, at the center.

    Questions: Who is the archer and who is the onlooker? If the archer is not MA, who then is the archer and is MA the onlooker?

    1. A Simple Truth

      neither…he’s the guy hiding in the woods who simply overheard the onlooker/archer’s tale and claimed it as his own

      that said, I like what you did there 43


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