Gabriel Paulista: Who is the £13.5m defender Arsenal are about to sign?

Arsenal have agreed a deal to sign Villarreal centre-back Gabriel Paulista with a deal set to be sealed later today

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Arsenal are on the verge of signing Brazilian defender Gabriel Paulista in a bid to ease their defensive concerns and provide some much needed strength in depth.

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Having seen the weekend’s action fall dramatically in the Gunners’ favour after Chelsea, Manchester City, Southampton and Tottenham were all knocked out of the FA Cup and both Liverpool and Manchester United taken to fourth round replays, fans are set to be treated to even better news with the arrival of 24-year-old Paulista.

The centre-back said farewell to Villarreal fans on Saturday night ahead of their 1-0 win over Levante – which Paulista did not take part in – and a deal was confirmed by the Spanish side later that night that revealed a £13.5m fee plus the loan signing of Joel Campbell until the end of the season.

 

So who is Gabriel Paulista? And will he rival Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker, Arsenal’s established centre-back pairing, for a place in the first team?

Paulista was born in Sao Paulo where he would go on to join Esporte Clube Vitoria, rising through their youth ranks before making his first-team debut in March 2010, with his league debut coming later that year in May.

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He featured in both matches of the 2010 Copa do Brasil finals in August 2010 as Vitoria took on Santos, although he was deployed as a right-back as they suffered a 3-2 aggregate defeat to finish as runners-up.

After making 141 appearances in total for the Salvador based club, he agreed a deal to join Villarreal in August 2013, penning a five-year contract to move to Spain. Still just 22 years old, he would have to wait until November before making his La Liga debut in the 1-1 draw with Atletico Madrid, who would go on to win the title that season.

He made 21 appearances that season, starting all but one of those matches and quickly secured his place in the first XI under manager Marcelino García Toral. This season, Paulista has already made 29 appearances including eight in Euorpe, and with Villarreal sitting in sixth in the La Liga table with a six point buffer to Malaga just below them another season of Europa League football looks to be on the cards.

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Will Paulista dislodge either Koscielny or Mertesacker?

Clearly, Paulista believes he’s ready to step-up and play in the Champions League, but he’ll have a task on his hands to dislodge Koscielny and Mertesacker. While the Frenchman is widely regarded as Arsenal’s best and most reliable defender when fit, Wenger is unlikely to drop Mertesacker given his standing as captain in the absence of Mikel Arteta.

Paulista certainly gives a better option in the centre should either of the two pick up an injury, with Nacho Monreal’s performances when covering in an unfamiliar position leaving a lot to be desired. But a very realistic solution could be to field Paulista on the right, at least until Mathieu Debuchy returns from the dislocated shoulder that has ruled him out until April at the earliest.

Calum Chambers has shown signs of late that he’s suffering from a significant increase in first-team football, and could be rotated with Paulista, who is more used to playing regular football but will have to adapt to the rigours of the Premier League.

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