Arsenal are riding high at the top of the Premier League following a day of results which went their way in dramatic fashion on Sunday.
The Gunners picked up a narrow 1-0 win over Leeds United in a topsy-turvy game at Elland Road before Manchester City slipped to a 1-0 defeat against Liverpool. The results opened up a four-point gap for Mikel Arteta’s side, who have now won nine of their 10 matches to announce themselves as serious title contenders.
Bukayo Saka scored for the third game in a row to highlight Arsenal ’s multi-faceted attack, which is not just reliant on Gabriel Jesus, while Aaron Ramsdale was exceptional in goal, denying Patrick Bamford on several occasions. Yet the match was far from straightforward.
The Gunners needed Bamford to miss from the penalty spot after William Saliba was penalised for handball and for VAR to intervene to prevent disaster in injury time. Gabriel Magalhaes was extremely fortunate that Chris Kavanagh was sent to the pitchside monitor and overturned his initial decision to hand the Arsenal defender a red card and award another penalty.
Bamford charged into Gabriel, who fell to the floor before reacting petulantly with a kick out towards the Leeds striker. VAR was correct to overturn the decision, given the incident was instigated by a Bamford foul, but the silly behaviour by Gabriel could easily have cost them two points and seen the Brazilian suspended for two matches.
If Arsenal are genuine title contenders, as Granit Xhaka believes, then they simply cannot afford such lapses in concentration and judgement. This is far from the first time Gabriel has been guilty of such brainless play either.
While the yellow card he eventually received on Sunday was his first of the Premier League campaign, the 24-year-old has a history of hot-headedness. He has been sent off twice in his Arsenal career to earn a bad reputation for ill discipline.
Back in January he was sent off during Arsenal’s 2-1 defeat by Manchester City for scuffing up the penalty spot and clattering his now-teammate Jesus minutes later. The incident prompted Rio Ferdinand to call him “stupid, immature, petulant” in the BT Sport studio.
“It’s crazy decision making. Emotions were high, we get that,” former City defender Joleon Lescott added at the time. “But what the worrying thing is, is that it didn’t surprise us: we’ve seen that before and we said that will continue to happen. He won’t not do that again. There will be games in periods of moments where he is just so emotional and gets so carried away with it, then that’s what you can’t do.”
Gabriel was also sent off in December 2020 against Southampton after picking up two quick yellow cards. If he continues on his current path he will become a target for opposition players, who see him as any easy target and someone they can provoke into a reaction.
Arsenal’s discipline problems were frequently highlighted last season, with red cards an all too frequent occurrence under Arteta, whose passionate nature on the touchline may not help matters. They are yet to pick one up this season, but the warning signs remain nonetheless.
After a hard-fought win it was no surprise to see Arteta put a positive spin on the events in the second half against Leeds. “From the first whistle in the second half we started not in rhythm and not making the right decisions time after time and we put ourselves in big trouble,” he said. “Even in those situations though I love the resilience, the fight, the character and the courage during the game.”
The resilience, the fight and the character are all there. If they are to maintain their current momentum, Arteta needs to make sure the discipline is too.