When they had a bit of devil

The Arsenal Scrapbook

Arsenal’s 2-2 draw with Manchester City was a game that revealed a lot both on and off the pitch. Arsenal put in a battle performance but mistakes, both individual and as a team, cost them three points.

Protests and fights among fans have seen media attention turn once again to the chaos off the pitch. A change of ownership, board and manager are all on the protest agenda, while the fights, quite honestly, are just pathetic.

However, despite this utter bedlam, there was something that was so minor in comparison to all of this that caught my attention. With Granit Xhaka and Francis Coquelin struggling to gain a foothold in midfield and dominate the game, the words of Martin Tyler and Gary Neville, on commentary duty for Sky Sports, triggered the topic of this week’s Arsenal Scrapbook.

‘Back when they had Gilberto Silva, when they had a bit of devil.’ said Neville.

‘How important was he?’ responds Tyler.

‘He was a destroyer, a clever one.’ explains Neville.

While Neville’s destroyer statement may have some truth to it, Gilberto Silva had many strings to his bow. Gilberto joined Arsenal from Atletico Mineiro for a fee of around £5 million, following impressive performances for Brazil at the 2002 FIFA World Cup, helping the samba nation to lift the trophy.

The deal was a complicated one, with Gilberto’s current side Mineiro under a transfer embargo for unpaid wages to players, including Gilberto himself. The Brazilian also struggled initially to gain a work permit but, the deal eventually went through on August 7th.

Despite struggling off the pitch, the midfielder hit the ground running on it, playing 50 games across all competitions, scoring three times, including his record breaking fastest Champions League goal against PSV after just 20.07 seconds.

Despite a dip in form towards the end of the season, Gilberto was part of the team that won the FA Cup, beating Southampton 1-0 in the final.

The 2003/04 season was arguably the finest in the club’s history and is without a doubt the best of Gilberto’s career. Arsenal went the season unbeaten while the Brazilian established himself as a key figure in the Arsenal team, forming a dominant midfield partnership with Patrick Vieira.

His tough tackling, intelligent defending, pace and power, coupled with his simple, defensive minded style made him very un-Brazilian in the way he played but, he knew his role and quietly went about his business, earning the nickname ‘the invisible wall’.

Arsenal won the league that season, Gilberto’s first and only Premier League title.

Gilberto remained a key part of Arsenal’s midfield over the next few years, winning the 2005 FA Cup, achieving his best scoring season with 11 goals in 2006/07 and taking the captain’s armband on a number of occasions, despite never actually being named official club skipper.

In fact, it was never being club captain that forced Gilberto to leave the club. At the beginning of the 2006/07 season, William Gallas arrived at The Emirates as part of the deal that saw Ashley Cole move to Chelsea.

For some bizarre reason, Gallas was named club captain instead of Gilberto, with the Brazilian also losing his starting spot to Mathieu Flamini.

Rumours began to circle, claiming Gilberto was unhappy and wanted to leave, with the player even telling the media that Arsene Wenger had made him feel ‘utterly useless’.

Despite Flamini’s departure for AC Milan at the end of the season leaving Arsenal short in the middle of the park, Gilberto also moved on, joining Greek side Panathinaikos.

244 appearances, 24 goals, three major trophies during his time at Arsenal show how vital he was, although I feel he never really got the credit he deserved.

Much like Sergio Busquets, the simplicity of role often saw Gilberto go unnoticed but, without him the Invincibles would not have been the Invincibles.

His destructive, powerful presence in midfield allowed The Gunners to play with freedom knowing that Gilberto would win the ball back and allow the attackers to play.  It’s safe to say that we could really do with that type of player now.

Gilberto was always someone I loved to watch and appreciate, he always gave 110%, would battle and fight for a win, also something we could really do with now but, alas, the days of Gilberto have gone.

He will always be fondly remembered by Gooners for his importance and talent, a true legend of Arsenal Football Club.

About the Author

Dan Mountney
Hi, I'm Dan and I'm currently studying Sports Journalism at the University for the Creative Art in Farnham, Surrey. I have supported Arsenal all my life and grew up watching arguably the greatest generation of players the club has ever had. I hope my love for the club comes across in my writing and that you enjoy what you've read from me!