The 26-year-old will leave Bayern Munich this summer in order to earn his rightful place in Brazil’s midfield at next summer’s World Cup, with Arsene Wenger set to benefit
By Peter Staunton
Arsene Wenger has shown a predilection for German football in recent seasons. He raided the youth academies of Stuttgart and Borussia Dortmund for Serge Ngabry and Thomas Eisfeld, while also signing established internationals in the shape of Lukas Podolski and Per Mertesacker.
In Luiz Gustavo Arsenal are set to sign a player who is well steeped in German football culture, having lived in the country since his teenage years. “Discipline, punctuality, and the way people always behave properly and honestly,” was Gustavo’s response when questioned as to what he admires about Germans upon his arrival at Bayern. At one stage he even mooted the possibility of representing die Nationalmannschaft at senior level.
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Luiz Gustavo leaving Bayern has been likely ever since Pep Guardiola’s prodigy Thiago Alcantara came in from Barcelona.
There is just too little space in die Roten’s midfield, especially with Pep going with a 4-1-4-1 formation.
Gustavo showed at the Confededations Cup in Brazil what he is capable of, yet in Munich he has to compete with Thiago, club icon Bastian Schweinsteger and record signing Javi Martinez.
A move to England is not a bad thing for Gustavo, who could establish himself at one of Europe’s best clubs and therefore play the number of matches that Luiz Felipe Scolari wants him to play ahead of the World Cup. Many Bayern fans will be sad to see him go, since he almost never had a really bad match. Competition just got too fierce for him.
Luiz Gustavo, then, is more than simply a Brazilian central midfielder. He is the progeny of two distinct football philosophies. As he said himself on the day he joined Bayern: “I could probably pull off a few tricks with the ball, but it’s not my style. I prefer things simple but effective.”
Despite a hard-earned and well-deserved reputation, Gustavo has now fallen quickly down the pecking order at Bayern Munich and is destined to join Wenger at the Emirates Stadium. That Bayern signed, in successive summers, Javi Martinez and Thiago Alcantara means there is space for Gustavo no longer. His versatility was lauded upon his arrival but is worth no extra credit now at Sabener Strasse.
Pep Guardiola is attempting to reinvent Bayern in his own image and instead of fielding two players deep in midfield, like his predecessors Jupp Heynckes and Louis van Gaal, is using only one. Bastian Schweinsteiger occupied that position on Friday night in the Bundesliga against Borussia Monchengladbach while Jan Kirchhoff fortified the midfield positions late on from the bench.
Martinez, coveted by Guardiola while he was in charge of Barcelona, and Thiago, a star pupil of the Barca finishing school, will feature heavily in the central positions while Toni Kroos remains a viable option. In any combination, it is evident that there will be scant opportunity for Gustavo to shine.
That would be a disaster for the 26-year-old, whose international career has prospered while his club stock has stalled. Initially selected for a friendly in August 2011, appropriately enough against Germany, Gustavo has gone on to establish himself as a first-choice player alongside Paulinho in a system that is similar – in a rudimentary sense – to that of Bayern under Heynckes. Given the talent and weight of numbers in and around the Brazil team under Luiz Felipe Scolari, Gustavo requires regular club action in order to safeguard his place. Bayern cannot offer that for him in a crucial World Cup season.
Wolfsburg, the other candidates for his signature, quite simply are undeserving of his presence in this stage of their development. This, after all, is a player who won everything there was to win last season for club and country, although he did not feature as often as he would have liked for Bayern, owing to the increased competition provided by Martinez. Perhaps due to his humble, unassuming nature, his technical quality can be obscured owing to the presence of more flamboyant team-mates like Franck Ribery and Neymar. He is a functional player and one who permits the attacking threats around him to flourish.
What was brought to wider appreciation during the course of the Confederations Cup were Gustavo’s chief strengths. He thrives on responsibility, recycling balls and effectively retaining possession for his side. While Paulinho could be regarded as the more dynamic of Brazil’s pivot, Gustavo is no less accomplished in possession. He has an accurate range of passing, short or long. He also boasts positional discipline and match instinct that carries him to vital areas of action. He is also capable of firing in a goal or two with a whiplash left foot when the opportunity arises. Gustavo has also deputised throughout his career in Germany as a central defender and his capabilities at left-back have also been noted. Aggression in the tackle forms a big part of his defensive armoury and as a consequence of that he retains a tendency to be booked often.
But this, doubtlessly, is a player who will add to Arsenal’s play. Complementing Mikel Arteta, Gustavo is the right kind of player to provide responsibility and assurance in the Gunners’ midfield. Arsenal, like Bayern, routinely dominate the possession statistics of matches and need a sure-footed insurance policy in the centre of the field when moves break down. It is an asset they currently cannot claim to have.
The man regarded in certain quarters as a German Arsene Wenger, Ralf Rangnick, resigned from his job as Hoffenheim coach owing to the sale of Gustavo in the winter of 2011. Now the man himself is about to see what the fuss was about.