Mikel Arteta had nothing but praise for William Saliba and Gabriel Magalhaes when he faced the press ahead of today’s clash with Wolves.
The duo have started nine of Arsenal’s 13 matches in the Premier League this season and conceded only seven goals along the way. With a helping hand from a rotating cast of Oleksandr Zinchenko, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Ben White and Jukub Kiwior, they’ve been the bedrock of the meanest defence in the top division.
Comparatively young for the positions they play – Saliba is 22 and Gabriel 25 – and each tied down to long contracts having penned new terms at the Emirates in the last 13 months, the manager is predicting a bright future, especially given the close bond they’ve formed on and off the pitch.
“To see those two centre-backs at that age in the Premier League doing what they’re doing, that’s very strange. But great credit to them, that’s a partnership,” said the Spaniard.
“Building a relationship and chemistry; there is not a company with the stats that can give you that stat. That’s impossible to measure. But there is something there that is not tangible, but it’s very, very important in certain positions and those two certainly have that.”
“I don’t know what they speak, sometimes, it’s French, Spanish, English, I don’t understand, but they understand each other which is the most important part.”
Having been a near ever-present for two seasons, eyebrows were raised when Gabriel wasn’t included in the starting lineup for the first three games of the season against Nottingham Forest, Crystal Palace and Fulham.
The manager tried to explain the situation away claiming it was tactical but with rumours circulating that a Saudi club had tried to lure the Brazilian away for big money, it always felt like there might be another reason behind it.
Three months later, the boss has hinted that some time on the bench provoked the response he was looking for.
He said: “In football it’s all about tomorrow. It’s about form, it’s about how you are playing, it’s about how you’re behaving.
You have to earn it every single day because you know somebody else is next to you and wants to take your place and deserves to take your place.
“Sometimes you just need to sit down on the bench and realise things and then you become suddenly a much better player.”