Who remembers when we signed the Brazilian midfielder Gilberto Silva?
It was the summer of 2002 and rumours went round that we were about to announce the capture of one of the players from the all-conquering Brazil team that had just won the World Cup, beating Germany in the final in Yokohama, Japan.
Would it be Rivaldo, or Ronaldinho, or Kleberson, or Roberto Carlos or even – if we’re really dreaming – Ronaldo (the original Ronaldo, not the preening show pony of today)?
When the player’s identity was announced, the fan reaction was along the lines of: “Oh, OK. Well, he seems decent.”
That man was, of course, Gilberto Aparecido da Silva.
There was, perhaps, a slight sense of disappointment that we had not secured the signature of one of the more glitzy names from the world champions. By contrast Gilberto was an unshowy performer, perhaps the least “Brazilian” of that entire team.
How callow we were.
Gilberto turned out to be one of the greatest signings of Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal career.
The man nicknamed “The Invisible Wall” was instrumental in allowing the best Arsenal team of our lifetimes to do what it did, culminating in going through an entire Premier League season unbeaten – a feat which has proved too much even for the most dominant sides of recent years including last season’s Liverpool and this year’s Manchester City.
If there had been no Gilberto there would be no Invincibles – it’s as simple as that. While Henry, Bergkamp, Pires, Vieira, Ljungberg and company were doing their spectacular thing, the Brazilian was quietly patrolling the deep midfield area, controlling the middle of the park and breaking up opposition attacks all game long.
When he departed for Panathanaikos in the summer of 2008 we were sad to see him go, but the hole he left behind became bigger and bigger with every season that passed from then on. No matter who we tried in the DM position, no-one could do what Gilberto had done.
Fast forward to today and it’s astonishing to think that even 13 years later Arsenal fans are still discussing our need for a reliable defensive midfielder.
Now, in Thomas Partey, we are starting to hope we have the right man. He is not “another Gilberto” or “another Vieira” but he has the potential to combine elements of both those Arsenal greats and after the North London Derby win he was given the seal of approval by the maestro himself.
Here’s what Gilberto had to say about Partey: “He’s a good player. He’s the type of player Arsenal were missing, I’ve spoken a couple of times about it.
“They have good players in the [central midfield] position but not to sit and give Arsenal the stability they have.
“Look at the game [against Spurs] it was great to see how he managed his game, how he managed that position, helping [team-mates].
“You know what is very important about this particular position? This is a very particular position because not every time you get the credit you deserve.
“That’s okay, it’s fine, because you have to understand that. But this guy, when he understands the position like Partey, look at his game. He made the others a lot better.
“He makes Xhaka look better in the game, he made the defenders look a lot better and comfortable when the ball was against them.
“I think the way he manages games, the way he positions himself, is very important for Arsenal. He is the kind of player Arsenal have needed for quite a long time in my opinion.“
It would be fair to say that Partey has made a sluggish start to his Arsenal career, hampered by injury and by what appears to be potentially a bit of a fitness issue.
But he has shown enough ability to get supporters excited about his potential and these comments from his peerless predecessor merely cement that impression.
Following a football club is all about dreams and right now I am allowing myself to start dreaming that this Arsenal side is close to a turning a corner and becoming a proper team. My hope comes from Tierney and Saka, from Smith Rowe, Martinelli and Odegaard, from Gabriel at the back and, last but by no means least, from Thomas Partey.
Dreaming is what being a football supporter is all about.
“The Invisible Wall” never got the credit he deserved until he took his bricks away. I believe there certainly is some of the Vieira about Partey and with the development of Saka, Smith-Rowe, Martinelli and perhaps BOdegaard into modern day Pires, Parlour, Henry and Santi, the future could be bright.
Anyone who can make Xhaka look better is a magician anyway!
I think Gilberto is indeed underrated overall. When we talk about DM, we usually think about Makelele, Deschamps, Gattuso, Dunga, Davids, Roy Keane, Matthaus, Vieira, Yaya Toure, Busquets, Kante, Casemiro….but it is true that Gilberto’s name does not come as regularly in the conversation of all time greats in the DM position…which is a shame because he was a key figure in Brazil and Arsenal’s success.
On top of that, everyone agrees that DM is a key position but it is also one that does not get the recognition it deserves. We all raved about Iniesta-Xavi in the Barcelona years but they couldn’t do “their thing” if Busquets were not shoring things up, same for Zidane in the French squad – If Deschamps and Petit or Karembeu are not behind him, he cannot be as free. In Madrid, he actually had a fall out with management when they let Makelele leave…
Ultimately, the DM position has also changed in the last 5 years especially. It requires more technique on the ball and more physicality as well as now the DM is not only about getting the ball back and passing it to the nearest player, the DMs now also have to be able to drive the ball and find a pass that can hurt the opposition once they have recovered the ball. Look at the transformation of Modric and Kroos at Madrid for example or the one of Gundogan at Man City this season.
I think that Partey could be our “Kroos” or our “Casemiro” or even our “Davids” but now it is time for Arteta to really mould him into the player he wants him to be for us. Partey is a smart player with good technique and also he is usually physically strong (this year is an odditiy in terms of his injuries). How will Arteta set-us up and what is his foreseen role for Partey?
Depending on Arteta’s vision, we may have another Gilberto (traditional DM) or another Vieira (DM hybrid CM) in our squad…In any case, if he can be as influential as any of these 2 AFC greats, we will be happy and I have no doubt that he can be a success at AFC
Thanks for the post Rocky, as always 🙂
I also think we are turning a corner and it might be a good one if we manage the next transfer window wisely 🙂
There is hope that our younger players (Holding, Gabs, Tierney, Saka, ESR, Martinelli) will become even better and that some of our more experienced players (Partey, Auba, Laca especially) can help us climb back to success. Let us see what happens but overall, the squad is looking decent also in terms of depth and by improving our starting RB and maybe adding a solid midfielder to play next to Partey if we stick to the 4231 system (which is not sure at all as I think Arteta may move to the City model with 41221), we could be in a position to credibly challenge for trophies next year although Leno is a thorn to stay at this stage 😦
I would bring Emerson and Ward-Prowse if possible this summer. Solid acquisitions in my view at RB and at DM/CM.
Good Morning, Rocky, 😁
The minute I heard we had signed Thomas, I was delighted. Having only seen him TV did not matter – he looked the Biz to me.
When he first played for us, his amazing and deft control promised us a marked upgrade on various midfielders we had on the roster for some years.
He looked like the star I had been hoping for.
He got injured. It happens. He was out for a while, and when he came back ‘fixed’, we were told all was well.
The trouble was – he was not firing on all cylinders – and altho he was still better than many other middies, he was not as good as at the start of his Arsenal career.
Rushed back from injury too soon? Has he been injury prone with his previous clubs (was that why he was sold on?).
In his last two games he has still looked a bit off the pace, but there has been signs of improvement, and I am off on a virtuous circle back to my original belief that he is the best middie we have had for some years.
Welcome back to the partey, Thomas.
Your Post is the optical equivalent of deep fried fish and chips, Rocky, mmmm
Good day all and thanks for the comments.
Redders – apparently TomPat had an excellent injury-free record until he came to N5 (natch).
From what I have seen of him he has elements of Vieira about him, which is why I was so taken with Gilberto’s comments.
Gilberto seemed to see something of himself in the player, which I find tremendously encouraging.
Transfers update: Barcelona will sign 3 players on a free this summer: Garcia (CB from Man City, Spanish), Wiljnandum (Midfielder from Liverpool, Dutch), Depay (FW from Lyon, Dutch). Good job Laporta and Koeman.
Pedri, Busquets, Wiljnadium – Dembele, Messi, Depay
The arrival of Depay may mean the end of Griezmann at Barcelona although the player wants to say, he may be kicked out…
Sign of the times RC. Garcia, Wijnaldum & Depay aren’t the type of players Barcelona would sign in the past.
Barcelona & Real Madrid are financed like Ponzi schemes. I look forward to the day they collapse.
Gilberto was a wonderful player, let the others get on with their sh!t.
Partey is more creative than Gilberto, but I can see him becoming the deep ball playing midfielder. I’m pretty sure Mik wants to move to one defensive mid. That will be him.
I had no idea that anyone was ‘anti’ Gilberto, Pete.
He was part of a wonderful team, and it would have been very difficult to find fault with anyone.
At the back of my mind, I seem to remember Gilberto named a team of the best players he had known. I can’t quite recall who they were, but I think I was surprised that none of the Arsenal Invincibles got a mention. Maybe they gave him stick. 😜
I had not thought of Tom Pat being like anyone else, to be honest, but I think you are right, he does have Vieira-like skills.
I love the way he calms the ball however hard Xhaka or anyone else drives a pass at him, so he lays it off all in one motion.
He also ‘sees’ where everyone is in his minds eye (rather like Merse was famed for) and his passing accuracy reflects that.
Quite impressed with Ndoye this afternoon. Striker for Swiss U21s – Nice.
Smith-Rowe somewhat subdued and substituted, likewise Nketiah. Swiss team brilliantly drilled, very physical and decidedly boring.
@RA I’m sure there are some anti-Gilberto’s out there, but I haven’t met any.
When I talk about letting others get on with their sh!t I mean he let the other players do their fancy sh!t while he got on with the dirty sh!t behind them.
In all teams there needs to be a balance of fancy sh!t players and dirty sh!t players. The 2004 vintage had plenty of both types of sh!t in the team. In fact it was overflowing with sh!t,
And I’m not talking about the plain sh!t players like Mustafi, I mean the players that do good sh!t..proper sh!t.
Who are they?
Where are they?
Hanging’s too good for them!
Just FYI – Barcelona will sell Emerson (right-back loaned out to Betis this seaon) for 25 Mln. He would be a great addition to our squad and I think the price is fair…He is tall, athletic, good at defending and going forward. If AFC get Emerson and Ward-Prowse, we will be very solid…
Leno – Emerson, Holding, Gabs, Tierney – Partey, WP – Saka, ESR, Martinelli (or Auba) – Laca
I am not sure Mikel or Edu are following this blog but if they are, I hope they go after Emerson and Ward-Prowse…lol
I have it on good authority that Mikel and Edu read AA religiously.
(Meaning when they’ve read the blog they exclaim “oh my God what are they smoking over there at AA”) 😀
Really liking these posts Rocky!
Some great names being bandied about, along with our own destroyer.
Lest we not forget Masherano was dm at pool and behind Busquets as a cb, was up there too for the kind of dirty sh!t players a team needs to win consistently.
As soon as Partey gets his proper play mate he may go on to do some good sh!t for AFC. He also moves the ball forward as shown by another site.