Gabriel: A Hero in The Making for Arsenal
Arsenal's 2-0 victory over Middlesbrough has taken the North Londoner's into the quarter-finals of the FA Cup.
The reigning champions cruised to victory thanks to an Olivier Giroud double on a day when Arsene Wenger chose to rotate his squad.
What we learned:
Gabriel Set for Hero Status at Arsenal
Wenger appears to have identified a world-class defender in the making. Such high praise may seem premature considering we've only seen '90 minutes form the new signing, and minor concerns exist about the time it will take to curb a degree of rashness in the youngster, but the rangy Brazilian turned in a debut performance that generated real excitement as he and Laurent Koscielny kept the sheets clean with tough tackling, smart reading of the game, calm passing, and a little help from the post.
Paulista's comfort on the ball rose to the forefront against Boro; his technical ability is a million times better than the often awkward Per Mertesacker, as Arsenal were building possession out of the back with more proficiency than has been seen in years, and perhaps ever during the Arsene era.
Martin Keown and Tony Adams had a passion and physicality that may never be matched, so too Sol Campbell, but the modern athletes, Koscielny and Gabriel, clearly possess an ability on the ball that the Englishmen never had even in their heyday.
The duo's ability with the ball at their feet will excite the manager to no end, it is of course a main reason why Wenger brought Paulista in from Villarreal, but perhaps what is of most value to the Professor will be the uncompromising grit in the challenge that the two bring to the table.
Gone are the dark days of a soft-center.
Wenger now has two players that will not shy from letting opponents know they're up against it, that they like to defend, that they thrive on intimidating, bone-jarring collisions, and that it won't be an easy afternoon verse the Gunners.
Strikers that play against Arsenal will be well aware that a loose touch could land them on the trainer's table come Monday morning.
Koscielny has found a real partner who can match his own ambition, someone who can mirror his dedication to the art of defending; a younger and better version of himself, his heir apparent, and the student from Sao Paulo is set to become even more powerful than his teacher.
Paulista's steely and intense nature, coupled with his ease on the ball, and striding-quickness to recover and eat up ground, indicate that Arsene Wenger has unearthed this generation's Lucio.
Now it's time to get that boy a copy of Rosetta Stone and a hardbound Oxford Dictionary.
Ozil's Good for Twenty Minutes
On Sunday, Mesut Ozil turned in another underwhelming performance. The first twenty minutes of the match were solid from the German, good vision and crisp passing, the trademark pulling the ball-on-a-string behind his standing leg to outwit the lower league defenders, and a display of energy and fitness that resembled a Premier League player.
From about the '25 minute on, Ozil was a non-factor yet again, and Tomas Rosicky would have been an upgrade.
Hard not to be disappointed that the Club's record signing can't produce more against a team from England's second division.
Wenger, weary of the threat Aitor Karanka's men posed, chose to drop Theo Walcott and insert Danny Welbeck, as he must have feared an Ozil/Walcott combination would have made the Gunners far too open against Boro.
Unfortunately, Ozil could not make more happen for the likes of Giroud, Welbeck, or Alexis Sanchez.
It seems unjust that Santi Cazorla has been made to drop so deep to get on the ball in order to accommodate Arsenal's most expensive luxury player.
Ozil may be completing a very high percentage of passes but few are key to the sequences that lead to goals for the Gunners.
Opposing defenders rightfully still pay significant respect to Nemo, there is still a very high regard for his talents, and he does niggle away at the confidence and focus of defenders which allows others to enjoy time, space, and freedom in certain areas of the pitch.
That being said, there is still so much more that is required from Ozil, so much more that he should and can offer to the team if he makes the commitment to be a two-way player, work without the ball, and play every game as if he still wanted to be the best.
For Ozil's season to be considered a success, he must shine in the Champion's League against Monaco, and be an integral part of a run to the Final, in order to justify his price tag.
Cazorla Still Arsenal's Most Important Player
It's the little wizard from Llanera, who, ever since plucking the ball from out of the hands of Alexis Sanchez to convert the penalty at Stoke back in December, has continued to shine and star as Arsenal's most influential and important player.
Cazorla was at the heart of both goals again today.
His sublime ability and touch inside the D, coupled with that supernatural mind's-eye-vision to spot Kieran Gibbs after dodging an onrushing challenge, made all the difference for Dial Square.
It was clutch playmaking from the Spaniard that helped break the seal and relieve pressure, Santi stepped up, again, when the team needed him most, and it was his 40 yard laser-guided pass to Alexis two minutes later that helped win the corner for Arsenal, from which Giroud exquisitely volleyed-home his second.
Santiago remains the game-changer for the team.
The fact is he'll have to continue to bare responsibility and be the man.
Alexis is clearly not 100%, he seems to be carrying that knock he took to his knee against Leicester City, there's something not quite right with the player, and little doubt exists that his exuberance to play in the Cup competition probably overruled any concerns voiced by Colin Lewin.
Arsenal will have to count on Santi next week verse Crystal Palace and hope that Sanchez is fully recovered in time for the UCL match verse Wenger's old Club...