There was some surprise when defender Gabriel Magalhaes was omitted from the Arsenal lineup for the second game in a row against Crystal Palace, but it is now clear why Mikel Arteta chose to leave him out.

The 25-year-old was arguably one of Arsenal’s best players last season, with his commanding presence at the back proving particularly useful in away games, and after being benched for the opening day win over Nottingham Forest, the expectation was that he would come back in.

Ben White moved from right-back to the centre, whilst William Saliba shifted along to Gabriel’s side, with Takehiro Tomiyasu and Thomas Partey as the full-backs from the start.

With so many players out of their natural positions, and a player as good as Gabriel on the bench, questions have been raised about what Arteta is trying to do with these surprise setups, but the first halves of both victories gave a good insight into his thinking.

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Fluid rotation

Arsenal dominated the first half against Palace, pushing high up the pitch, but whilst they could not find a breakthrough in terms of goals, the Gunners were camped in the Crystal Palace half, and had a clear shape when in possession.

Partey operated as an inverted full-back, pushing forward when in possession, and White, Saliba and Tomiyasu would form a back three. All three defenders are more mobile than Gabriel, and Tomiyasu’s inclusion was a result of an injury to Jurrien Timber and Oleksandr Zinchenko’s lack of match fitness.

Crystal Palace v Arsenal FC - Premier League
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Tomiyasu was selected over Gabriel as the role saw him rotate between a left-back and a centre-back, and his strong ability on both feet made him a better option, even though Gabriel is overall the superior defender.

When Zinchenko returns to the lineup, it will be interesting to see whether Arteta sticks with this new setup, or reverts to the one which was successful last season, with White at right-back, Zinchenko inverting from the left and Gabriel in the middle.

All three of White, Saliba and Tomiyasu would rotate throughout the half, with Declan Rice and Partey constantly moving, and it is this fluid system which has caused Gabriel to drop to the bench.

Gabriel may be able to play in such a fluid role, but given that he is more one-footed and less mobile than the other options, he has not yet been tested.

It seems that with an increase in rotational options, Arteta will change system from time to time, and this will involve players who may be considered almost-guaranteed starters to drop out of the main XI. Gabriel will come in useful though, and it is a testament to the quality within the squad that he can drop out of the side with Arsenal picking up maximum points.

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