"This is what I dreamt of"
Halfway through his second season at Arsenal, defender Gabriel Magalhaes has firmly established himself as a key component of Mikel Arteta's defence, and as he tells us in this exclusive matchday programme interview, the atmosphere in the Premier League is a big part of why he's loving life in English football.
Gabriel wasted no time in announcing his arrival in English football when he signed at the start last season. Making his first appearance away to Fulham on the opening day, the burly, powerful defender scored our second goal early in the second half, and impressed at the back throughout, keeping a clean sheet in a dominant 3-0 win.
It would have been the perfect debut, but one thing was missing: the fans. In fact all of Gabi’s first five appearances for the Gunners were played behind closed doors – during the height of the pandemic – and it wasn’t until the start of this season that he first sampled the atmosphere of a sell-out crowd in England.
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And the Brazilian centre back found the return of the fans very much to his liking. He was unbeaten in his first seven appearance this season, establishing himself as one of the most solid and assured defenders in the league in the process.
He’s continued to go from strength to strength since then, showing his goalscoring prowess as well, netting in wins over Leicester, Southampton and Wolves.
“The atmosphere in English football is wonderful,” begins the defender. “When you take to the pitch, you always have butterflies in your stomach because you know that wherever you are about to play, the stadium will always be packed in England.
“You can see how different the Premier League is. I’m thrilled to be here and I hope to make the Gunners very happy.”
Gabriel – known around the club as Gabi, or Big Gabi to avoid confusion with his namesake and compatriot Martinelli – joined the Gunners from Lille in the summer of 2020. He had spent four seasons in the French top flight (including one on loan to Troyes) but it was during his final year in Ligue 1 when he really began to catch the eye, also impressing in the Champions League.
It was enough to convince Mikel Arteta to sign the left-footed centre back, and he’s now well at home in the Arsenal back four, having started each of our last 24 league games
“After a year and a half here at Arsenal, everything is improving and going in the way that I’d dreamt it would,” the 24 year old beams. “I hope to keep making the fans happy. I’m working hard every day and it’s really pleasing if the fans can recognise that and it makes me really happy if they are pleased with my games.
“We can all feel the fantastic support from our fans at Emirates Stadium in every game we play, and it’s a great feeling. I have to say that it also goes for when we play away too, with the way they get behind us. Our away supporters have really impressed me as well.”
When asked to name the best atmosphere he’s known in his career to date, he doesn’t have to think too far back in history for his answer.
“So far, if I was to pin down the best atmosphere I’ve played in, I’ve got to say the game against Wolves at the Emirates last month. I made a bad start and got a pass wrong, but my team-mates picked me back up and the fans got behind us throughout.
“We were happy in the end as we got all three points and it was an incredible feeling. There were a lot of emotions, for me especially after that first goal,” he continues.
“When I got home that night I watched the highlights back. The first thing I saw was my mistake that led to Wolves’ opening goal, but only if you’re on the inside can you know what it feels like to make that type of mistake.
“That’s something you can watch back and learn from. So many top players make mistakes too. It’s normal to think about it after the game.
“You have to learn from that, improve and work hard. I watched our goals back too, of course, and the pure emotions involved. I was grateful for those goals because I know how much we needed those three points. They’ll certainly make a big difference going forward.”
So is it usual for Gabriel to watch his games back afterwards, or was the Wolves game a bit special in that regard?
“No, no, I watch a lot of football, all the time. Sometimes I spend two hours watching my own game back.
“When I was injured or not playing, of course I watched all the Arsenal games, and even when I’m not playing, I’m just as focused when I watch as I would be on the pitch. That’s how I watch games. I watch with the family and get behind my team-mates throughout the whole game.
“I keep up with all the main leagues too. Whenever there are other games to watch, I’m always up for it. It’s not just the Premier League, I’m always up for whatever is on.
“I watch it all, especially if I have friends playing in other leagues. I love watching the Champions League too. The games are so emotionally charged! The Paris Saint-Germain v Real Madrid game recently for example, when Kylian Mbappe scored in the last minute, that was a great match.”
Gabriel’s love affair with football, as seems virtually compulsory in Brazil, started at a very young age.
Born in Sao Paulo in December 1997, he grew up as a Corinthians fan. He said he was ‘always at the stadium watching games’, but then his playing career started to take off. He moved home to join Avai – some 700km south of Sao Paulo – at the age of just 13, and turned pro three years later.
Just as he would for Arsenal four years later, he made a goalscoring start to life in the Avai first team, back in January 2016 – a few weeks after his 18th birthday.
“I remember my first game as a professional for Avai very well,” he recalls. “I had played some youth games, but this was the first senior match of my career. It was a key game. My debut was against Gremio, a top Brazilian side.
“We were losing 2-1 with a few minutes left, then I equalised with a header to get us a draw. On my senior debut! There were so many feelings involved, it’s a wonderful memory for me.
“It was a home game for us, but I remember the atmosphere was really big because there were so many Gremio fans in the stadium on the day, even as the away side.”
Gabriel only had one season in the Avai team before being snapped up by Ligue 1 side Lille, and heading to Europe.
He made just over 50 appearances for the French side (including some under former Leeds boss Marcelo Bielsa) and also had brief loan spell with Dinamo Zagreb in Croatia, as well as the temporary move to Troyes.
But he’s already racked up more games for Arsenal than any of his four previous sides, and says he is feeling right at home here, and loving life in London.
“It’s going great, and I’ve met a few fans when I’ve been out, to be really honest though – I don’t go out that often!” he says.
“But sometimes I go into central London with my wife and I meet fans out and about. They always praise me and thank me, but I don’t know why!” he adds laughing.
“They’re always grateful to me and that motivates me even more, knowing that the fans are pleased with us. It’s also normal to receive messages from fans if you don’t win a game, but that’s football. The supporters deserve happiness and we’re going to take Arsenal to where the club needs to be.”
This interview first appeared in the matchday programme, which can be purchased here.
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