Jonathan Johnson: “It would be a pairing of two very good, very promising central defensive talents and potentially a partnership which could serve Arsenal for the best part of the next 10 years”
Last Updated: 21/08/20 5:30pm
If Arsenal complete the signing of Lille’s Gabriel, he could form a defensive partnership with William Saliba for ‘best part of 10 years’, French football expert Jonathan Johnson told the Sky Sports Transfer Talk podcast.
Arsenal remain “clear favourites” to sign the 22-year-old Brazilian defender despite late interest from Napoli and Manchester United, as they look to improve a defence which has struggled for consistency over a number of years.
If the centre-back does join Arsenal, he will not be their only new defensive recruit this summer, with William Saliba, initially signed under Unai Emery last summer before being loaned back to former club St Etienne, also arriving at the club ahead of 2020/21.
Paris-based Johnson told the Sky Sports Transfer Talk podcast the pair could provide the defensive stability the Gunners have needed in recent seasons, with both well-suited to the physical side of the Premier League.
“It would be a pairing of two very good, very promising central defensive talents and potentially a partnership which could serve Arsenal for the best part of the next 10 years,” he said.
“Saliba’s season with St Etienne was mixed, obviously the Ligue 1 season was brought to a premature close because of the COVID crisis, he had a few injuries as well and it was a shame he was not granted the chance to play in the Coupe de France final before finishing his loan spell, it would have been a good way for him to go.
“But he’s shown when he plays he has a lot of talent, a lot of potential, he is fulfilling quite a bit of that already, he has impressive maturity for his age, and I think he would pair well with Gabriel.
“Both will take a bit of time to get used to the Premier League but both are tailor-made for Premier League football. I do not think that process would take as long as it would with other foreign players.”
‘Gabriel made for the Premier League’
Ahead of his likely arrival, Johnson gave his assessment on Gabriel’s strengths and weaknesses as a defender, and expressed his belief the U20 international will find life in north London an easy adaptation given his attributes as a player.
He said: “I do not think he can be held up as the absolute solution to Arsenal’s defensive issues, but he could go a long way alongside someone like William Saliba to solving some of those headaches.
“He’s a very talented guy, physical, he’s strong, he’s got good technique, he’s made for the Premier League. He would be a good addition if Arsenal can pull it off.
“To be perfectly honest, the amount of time Napoli has been interested in him which goes back to when they were trying to pull off a double swoop for him and (Victor) Osimhen, who then signed, to me it looks like he was holding out for a preferred destination of the Premier League.
“He’s a strong and fast, but also technical central defender, he’s shown good leaderships for someone so young. He’s recovered from a couple of difficult spells out on loan early in his career, he’s got good vision of the game, a very good long passer which might take some people by surprise, his physique is very good in terms of what he brings to the defence.
“He could use it beter going forward, but he’s quite an imposing character, very tenacious and gets stuck in. He has the physical attributes to thrive.”
Should Arsenal move for Aouar?
Another player Arsenal have been linked with in the summer transfer window has been Lyon midfielder Houssem Aouar, who played a pivotal role in the team’s run to the Champions League semi-finals before they were eventually seen off by Bayern Munich on Wednesday night.
Johnson told the podcast the 22-year-old would be a worthy signing if any team was willing to take the plunge for his signature – but his price tag may put some off in a difficult financial year for many clubs.
He said: “He’s a very talented midfielder who came through the Lyon academy. He shone in their Champions League run in Lisbon, Lyon unexpectedly making it to the semi-finals and was a key part of that in a three-man midfield, the more attacking element.
“In the same mould as Nabil Fekir, who he essentially replaced in the team. The problem for any club looking at him, and there are plenty not just in the Premier League but elsewhere in Europe, is the fact Lyon went as far as the semi-finals.
“It now means they are pretty much able to name the price they want for him, and my excess is they will look for excess of €50m (£45m) for him, which makes buying him something clubs will have to give serious consideration to considering the price tag is quite high and the limited transfer funds generally available across Europe.
“There’s the risk that Aouar does not stick around and someone does see his potential and the good value there. If I was a club this summer and had that money and needed to strengthen that position, I would spend the money. If the economic situation recovers and transfer fees go up to something closer to what they were before the crisis, I think he would command much more in what we would call the normal transfer market.
“I think it’s a good opportunity if the money is there to spend on someone like him. If there are sales made to bring someone like him in, it’s definitely worthwhile. He’s the kind of player you would want to build the team around moving forward.”