Wenger prays Gabriel can swiftly scale language barrier

Arsenal manager warns against expecting miracles from Brazilian defender

For Gabriel Paulista, the pressure stands to be intense. Never mind the size of the fee that took him from Villarreal to Arsenal last month, the Brazilian centre-half has been held up as the solution to one of the London club's biggest problems – the lack of defensive cover.

There was relief when he completed his £11.3 million transfer, not least from central defenders Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny.

The former has shouldered the heaviest of workloads this season while the latter has had a nagging achilles problem. Arsenal have been stretched at the back when injuries have bitten but Gabriel offers strength and reassurance.

The 24-year-old is to make his debut in tomorrow’s FA Cup tie against Middlesbrough, the in-form Championship leaders. Aitor Karanka’s team had been close to the scalp of Liverpool in the Capital One Cup only to lose an epic penalty shootout 14-13 last September.


Arsene Wenger said he wanted to rest Mertesacker but that Koscielny had a slight shoulder problem, which would need a late test. Either way, Gabriel should start and even Wenger admitted the anticipation was underpinned by tension.

‘Tremendous pressure’

“The players are always under tremendous pressure because everything they do is analysed by the pundits and the press,” the Arsenal manager said. “They know that, and the modern player has to live with that . . . But at least he will not read the press.”

The last comment, delivered with a smile, referred to Gabriel’s lack of English. He has only the basics in Spanish, according to Wenger, having been at Villarreal for just 18 months and hardly anybody at Arsenal speaks Portuguese.

“When I was in Japan [as manager of Nagoya Grampus Eight], people could say what they wanted,” Wenger said.

“I learned to speak Japanese in the end but the difference is that you can speak it and still not read the alphabet . . . Gabriel will just focus on his game. That is one of the advantages.”

The disadvantages are the scope for costly communication breakdowns. “Look, it is a problem,” Wenger said. “When you don’t speak English and you don’t understand: ‘Come out, come back, right, left,’ it is a problem for a defender. You need to know the key words: ‘Referee. Offside. Foul’.

“He’s the first defender I’ve brought in with no English. In terms of other players, Jose Reyes was not fantastic with his English, even when he left. But Thierry Henry arrived here and three months later, he was fluent in English. Some learn quickly.”

Wenger will make changes to his line-up for the visit of Middlesbrough, with the one swap he confirmed being Wojciech Szczesny for David Ospina in goal. Guardian service