Stepping into a midfield role in the years following Patrick Vieira’s spell of dominance at Arsenal is certainly not an easy task but it is one that Brazil international Gilberto Silva did exceptionally well with.
Signed from Atletico Mineiro in 2002, after impressing at the World Cup, Silva spent three seasons playing alongside the Gunners’ World Cup-winning captain before having to fill the void left following his departure to Juventus in 2005.
Gilberto hit the ground running in north London by scoring on his debut against Liverpool, playing a key part of the team that won the FA Cup in his first season before being an integral member of the squad that won the Premier League in 2003-04 without losing a single game.
However, the following season he was injured for seven months with a back problem and feared he would never play football again – which is why is rise as Vieira’s successor in 2005-06 was so impressive.
In July 2006, Gilberto was the captain for a Champions League game against Sparta Prague and it was in Europe when his finest performances were shown as Arsenal advanced to the final in Paris, with Gilberto’s defensive midfield role proving vital in the games against Real Madrid, Juventus and Villarreal.
Then came the move to the Emirates Stadium and Gilberto was announced as the vice-captain for Arsenal’s first campaign at their new home, standing in well throughout the campaign when Thierry Henry was absent and scoring the Gunners’ first goal at the Emirates Stadium in a 1-1 draw with Aston Villa.
He finished the campaign with a tally of ten goals, aided by stepping in as Arsenal’s penalty taker when Henry was injured and was considered to be one of the best players in the Premier League that season.
From there the situation changed, with Gilberto losing his space in the first-team and eventually leaving to join Greek side Panathinaikos in 2008. Despite that, his impact at Arsenal could be felt for years to come.
A major criticism of the Gunners in the ten years since Gilberto’s departure is that Arsenal have not been able to call upon a combative defensive midfielder to protect the back-line, leaving the defence vulnerable.
While that defensive role is often referred to as the Claude Makelele position, following his years impressing with Chelsea and France, it is Gilberto that stands as the mould at Arsenal – who will hope fortunes could be different this season.
Signing Uruguay international Lucas Torreira from Sampdoria, the Gunners are likely to see comparisons between the 22-year-old and his fellow South American on the field – which is a testament to the impression Gilberto left at Arsenal.
In his years at the club, Gilberto was valued by many as less important than the likes of Vieira, Henry and Cesc Fabregas but it is clear that the Brazil ace was a crucial member of Arsenal’s evolution in the final years at Highbury and into the new dawn that followed at the Emirates Stadium.
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