Arsenal could sign their next Gilberto Silva this summer with stunning £40m swoop

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Arsenal have been linked with a bid for a midfielder who could emulate one of the key cogs in the Invincibles team.

When you think back 20 years to Arsenal’s great Invincibles team that won the Premier League title in 2003/04, most of us think first of the great players they had, the ones who have etched their names into top flight history – Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Sol Campbell, Robert Pirès and so on. But one of the last names many of us would recall from that stellar squad was one of the most important. Gilberto Silva.

The Brazilian midfielder, nicknamed ‘The Invisible Wall’ for all the unseen and often underappreciated work that he did, was a key cog in the Invincibles but not the flashiest of operators. His unassuming and intelligent defensive work not only staved off opposing attacks but also freed Patrick Vieira up to be more aggressive, to get those long legs striding forward into the final third to join the attack. Other players brought the flair and the style, but it was Silva’s substance that helped to hold it all together.

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And now, as Arsenal look to regain the Premier League title two long decades later, it’s hard not to look at the team and wonder if they need a Gilberto Silva of their own if they want to become consistent contenders for silverware. They have a respectable Vieira proxy in Declan Rice, a midfielder with impressive defensive traits and the ability to carry the ball and support the attack, but working out how to support him has been more of a challenge.

At first, Mikel Arteta used the full-backs – mainly Oleksandr Zinchenko – to step up into midfield in a manner not dissimilar to the way that Pep Guardiola uses John Stones at Manchester City. Then, around the turn of the year, he instead started playing a double pivot with Jorginho alongside Rice, which has worked wonders, providing a stable platform in front of the defence for when Rice ventures further forward.

There are two problems, however – the first is that Jorginho, for all his experience and his economic and efficient passing, is not a true defensive midfielder and doesn’t offer the same kind of protection as Silva once did, or even as Rice does now. The second is that a lot of rumours suggest that the 32-year-old is likely to leave in the summer, with a return to Italy widely expected. He is not a long-term solution, at any rate.

So it’s not surprising to see Arsenal linked with quite a few midfielders who could fill that role next season. Aston Villa’s Douglas Luiz has come up a lot, as has Real Sociedad’s Martin Zubimendi and quite a few others – but most recently, it’s been Wolverhampton Wanderers and Brazil midfielder João Gomes who’s name has found its way onto the rumour mill.

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Granted, Gomes isn’t exactly Gilberto Silva reincarnated, even if he shares a nationality and playing position with him. Where Silva’s game was based around smart positioning between the centre-backs and his ability to shut down passing angles, Gomes is rather more gung-ho – he likes to get right the way around the midfield, shutting down attacks and pressuring opposing ball-carriers. In other words, ‘The Invisible Wall’ would not be an apposite description. He makes himself very visible indeed.

But he still has both the defensive quality and positional discipline to make a good partner for Rice. For starters, Gomes averages north of four tackles per match, which is stellar by any standard, and he reads the game well enough to make plenty of blocks and interceptions as well. He offers the kind of cover for the defence that Jorginho doesn’t.

He hasn’t got the Italian’s passing range, granted, and his long balls can be a little wayward sometimes, but then Silva never had the best track record with more direct passes either, and it didn’t do him any harm – or Arsenal. And Gomes is just fine with his passing over shorter distances, which should suit Arteta’s compact tactical scheme just fine.

The Brazilian has, of course, been heavily linked with a move to Manchester United already but according to more recent reports from the Brazilian media, Arsenal have emerged as a very serious contender for his signature and may even be pushing harder for the deal to happen. That makes sense on paper – with £40m the alleged price tag for the Wolves man, he would be cheaper then players like Luiz or Zubimendi while offering more defensive rigidity.

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And while he doesn’t have the creative range of some of those players and isn’t capable of the same kind of impact in the final third based on what we’ve seen since he joined from Flamengo at the start of 2023, he has the playing style to help to set Rice free to complement the more attacking elements of the team at will.

Gomes wouldn’t be the flashiest or most thrilling signing. He won’t score boatloads of goals or expand the team’s creative horizons by himself. But he’s tenacious, effective and has the work ethic and quality to make the rest of the team better around him, which is presumably why he was called into the Brazil squad for the first time in March.

Arsenal used an unassuming Brazilian defensive midfielder to become a team who were greater than the sum of their parts before. It wouldn’t hurt to try the trick out again.

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