Andy Townsend has warned Mikel Arteta that Gabriel Magalhaes ‘makes mistakes’ at Emirates Stadium and considers William Saliba as Arsenal’s most important defender.

The Gunners started the 2023/24 Premier League season with a central defensive pairing of Saliba and Ben White on Saturday. Arteta opted against starting Gabriel during Arsenal’s 2-1 opening-day win over Nottingham Forest. The Spaniard stressed it was purely a tactical call.

Even after an injury for Jurrien Timber, Arteta left Gabriel on the bench as Arsenal defended a two-goal lead. He would, however, usher the Brazilian onto the pitch in the 86th minute in place of Gabriel Martinelli. Arteta felt Gabriel was needed after conceding to Taiwo Awoniyi.

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Arteta ended Gabriel’s run of consecutive Premier League games at 78

Just dropping Gabriel to his bench was huge for Arteta, though, as the 25-year-old has often been vital since joining. Arsenal signed the 6 ft 2 brute from LOSC Lille in September 2020 for £27m. The Gunners even fended off rival interest from Everton and Manchester United.

Arsenal also gave Gabriel a new contract in October that ties him down at Emirates Stadium until June 2027. Arteta sought to secure his long-term future during a campaign in which the defender played 48 games. He also started in all 38 of the Gunners’ Premier League fixtures.

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Gabriel had also started in all 35 of his Premier League appearances in 2021/22. He missed the first three games of that campaign due to a knee injury with his last appearance on their bench in April 2021. Arteta started Gabriel in 78 consecutive league games before this week.

Townsend believes Saliba is now Arsenal’s most important defender

Townsend was, seemingly, not surprised that Arteta dropped Gabriel before Arsenal hosted Nottingham Forest on Saturday, though. The former Chelsea midfielder now believes Saliba is Arteta’s most important defender. He also feels the Brazilian can, sometimes, be a liability.

“Gabriel, sometimes, makes mistakes,” Townsend told Premier League Productions (12/09, 13:04). “He has lapses in concentration.

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“But I still think he’s a very reliable hand in that defence. He’s left-footed, which is so important these days. But I think the Arsenal defence this season will be a case of William Saliba and one other. He’s the main man.”

Gabriel has shown throughout his Arsenal career that he has a rash side that can leave them in trouble. He has produced a raft of errors since arriving in north London. Yet Arteta always kept his faith in the defender he signed. But that no longer seems to be the case this season.

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