Football Features

Hit or miss? Every Brazilian signed by Arsenal in the Premier League era

By Ben Green

Published: 12:43, 5 July 2022

Arsenal have completed the signing of Gabriel Jesus from Manchester City, who becomes the sixth Brazilian captured by the Gunners since former Selecao international Edu took up a technical director role at the Emirates in 2019.

Announced as a long-term contract, believed to be a five-year deal, Jesus joined Mikel Arteta’s men for £45m, reuniting with the Spaniard having previously worked under him when he was a key part of Pep Guardiola’s backroom staff at the Etihad.

It’s quite the coup for Arsenal, being able to lure a player of Jesus’ calibre to the capital without the pull of Champions League football, which perhaps serves best to reinforce their reputation as one of the country’s perennial powerhouses.

Of course, it’s not the only piece of business for Arsenal, who had already captured Sao Paulo wonderkid Marquinhos this summer. That’s right, another Brazilian, and certainly not a bad nation to pick if you’re going to stockpile talent.

Six Brazilians have walked through the door since Edu took the reins as Arsenal’s first ever technical director, but this isn’t a new trend for the Gunners. They have a long and storied association with the nation, including Edu himself, but not all turned out to be as successful as him.

Below we look at every Brazilian who has rocked up in the red half of north London, and assessed whether their time at the club was a success or not.

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Andre Santos

Time at Arsenal: 2011-2013

Arsenal appearances: 33

Unquestionably one of the most forgetful signings of the Arsene Wenger era, Andre Santos joined the Gunners from Fenerbahce in 2011 as a buccaneering and explosive attack-minded full-back, and he actually started off quite well. In his maiden campaign, the Brazilian netted a crucial goal in the final day of 2011/12 against West Brom to secure a comeback win and ensure the club finished ahead of arch-rivals Tottenham, and also scored in the 5-3 win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. But his form plummeted in 2012/13 and his name is now shrouded in Arsenal infamy after exchanging shirts with Robin van Persie at half-time — who left for Manchester United that season — in a crucial match at Old Trafford, in which he produced a dismal first-half display. He inevitably left three months later. 

Verdict: Miss

Denilson

Time at Arsenal: 2006-2013

Arsenal appearances: 153

A Copa Libertadores winner with prominent talent-spotters Sao Paulo, Denilson relocated to England with a burgeoning reputation as Brazil’s next big thing, and he certainly looked it during those formative stages of his career in north London. Described as “a little bit in between Tomas Rosicky and Gilberto” by Wenger, the Frenchman clearly wasn’t putting too much pressure on him.

Denilson had all the attributes to take the game by storm as a precocious midfield tempo-setter, but he never managed to elevate his status beyond that of a neat and tidy metronome, nothing more, nothing less. He stuck around in north London for several years, and has been very vocal about how personal issues took their toll on him in the English capital, but there will always remain a what-could-have-been asterisk attached to his name.

Verdict: Miss

Edu

Time at Arsenal: 2001-2005

Arsenal appearances: 127

The man himself, Edu made his name at boyhood club Corinthians, who famously won the 2000 Club World Championship, which contained the likes of Real Madrid and Manchester United, even scoring from the spot in the final’s decisive shootout. The versatile and dynamic midfielder made the jump straight to Arsenal in 2001 and his legacy lives on in north London after four trophy-spangled years. In 2001/02 he became the first Brazilian to win the Premier League, and then in 2003/04 he was an integral part of Wenger’s ‘Invincibles’.

Now he is attempting to restore the club back to those halcyon days, one Brazilian player at a time.

Verdict: Hit

David Luiz

Time at Arsenal: 2019-2021

Arsenal appearances: 73

The mercurial defender spent two years in north London after crossing the Chelsea-Arsenal divide and he became quite the polarising character. Erratic and wayward at times, but firm and resolute at others. Luiz is a joy to watch for anyone who doesn’t support the club he is representing, possibly the most Jekyll-and-Hyde player out there. If you catch him on a good day, you’re treated to a showing of defensive brilliance; if you catch him on a bad day, you’re equally treated to a comical display of defensive incompetence. He is a neutral’s dream.

That pretty much summed up his Arsenal existence. He was key as the club won the 2020 FA Cup, but then he would produce something like his disaster-class in Arsenal’s 3-0 loss to Man City just three months prior, coming on for the injured Pablo Mari in the 24th minute, gifting Raheem Sterling in the 45th minute, conceding a penalty in the 49th, and then getting sent off. Classic Luiz.

Verdict: Hit (but only just)

Gabriel Magalhaes

Time at Arsenal: 2020-present

Arsenal appearances: 70

Signed from Lille in 2020, Gabriel has established himself as a force to be reckoned with in the Premier League. A sturdy defensive unit and a tidy operator on the ball, the uncapped Brazilian has all the attributes to go on to become a club great if he continues on his current trajectory.

Verdict: Hit

Gabriel Martinelli

Time at Arsenal: 2019-present

Arsenal appearances: 84

A hidden gem in the lower reaches of Brazilian football, Gabriel Martinelli’s path to stardom has been anything but conventional. A shrewd scouting network across the pond helped Arsenal identify the talents of Martinelli, and he joined the club from an unlikely source, fourth-tier Ituano FC. Relocating from such humble surroundings ensured the precocious Brazilian winger joined the club with little expectations placed on his shoulders, but he has exploded in north London and is now a key member of Arteta’s starting XI, even earning three caps for the Selecao, which have all come this year. The ceiling is limitless.

Verdict: Hit


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Gabriel Paulista

Time at Arsenal: 2015-2017

Arsenal appearances: 64

I remember my first game. I was up against [Romelu] Lukaku and there were a couple of 50-50 challenges early on and I went into this challenge hard, down on the ground and came away with the ball and suddenly the noise in the Emirates… it was as if I had scored.”

Gabriel Paulista had all the characteristics to thrive in the Premier League. A hard-hitting, no-nonsense centre-back, the Brazilian’s style wasn’t that of an archetypal Wenger player, and perhaps that clash of philosophies held him back. He never really established himself as a consistent defensive star at Arsenal, and subsequently only lasted two years in England before returning to Spain, where many north London strugglers have gone on to greater heights. Just look at Villarreal’s current set-up.

Ultimately, this one will go down in the ‘miss’ pile, as the Brazilian reflected — shortly after his move — that he just wasn’t given the opportunities to make a name for himself at Arsenal. “I deserved more of an opportunity. Sometimes I played because my teammates were injured. I did play and sometimes even after playing well, I’d go home sad, given that I was only playing because my teammate was injured,” he told Sky Sports in 2017.

“I don’t think I deserved that. I think I had the ability to play and to start games because I deserved to do so, or because I did well in training, but that didn’t happen.

“Sometimes I’d play three or four games and if Arsenal lost, I’d be dropped and everyone on the outside would say: ‘It’s Gabriel’s fault’.

“That wasn’t good for me.”

Verdict: Miss

Gilberto Silva

Time at Arsenal: 2002-2008

Arsenal appearances: 243

The real midfield McCoy, Gilberto Silva had it all. Aggressive, elegant and a laser-guided passing range, “the invisible wall” was the protector in Wenger’s ‘Invincible’ system. He moved to London from Brazil at 25, a relatively late stage to make the jump across the Atlantic, but his transition was seamless as he went on to lift the 2004 Premier League title in unbeaten fashion and claim two FA Cups.

Verdict: Hit

Julio Baptista

Time at Arsenal: 2006-2007

Arsenal appearances: 35

Julio Baptista had quite the season-long loan spell at Arsenal in 2006/07. He struggled immensely in the Premier League after trading Real Madrid for the Gunners on a temporary basis, netting just three goals, but he did manage to etch his name into Arsenal folklore after he notched a brace against Tottenham in the League Cup semi-final first leg (he also scored an own goal). A great moment, but Arsenal didn’t pursue his signature on a permanent basis, which is perhaps the biggest giveaway here.

Verdict: Miss


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Juan

Time at Arsenal: 2001-2004

Arsenal appearances: 2

The path from Sao Paulo to north London is well-trodden, and Juan was another who embarked on that journey in the early noughties. It was a short-lived and injury-laden existence in the capital, in which he made just two appearances for the club, coming in the League Cup against Grimsby and the FA Cup against Gillingham. An ACL rupture would all but end his chances of breaking into Wenger’s XI and he returned to Brazil in 2004, though he certainly wouldn’t disappear without a trace. In 2008 he was named in the Brasileiro Serie A Team of the Year and earned two caps for Brazil, playing in World Cup qualifiers against Chile and Bolivia. For Arsenal, though, he was an unmitigated flop.

Verdict: Miss

Pedro Botelho

Time at Arsenal: 2007-2012

Arsenal appearances: 0

No? Me neither. The 32-year-old apparently moved to Arsenal in 2007 from Figueirense as ‘one for the future’, though that ultimately failed to bear fruit after he got caught in the club’s loan spell revolving door, enduring five temporary stints away from the club before returning to Brazil in 2012.

Verdict: Miss

Sylvinho

Time at Arsenal: 1999-2001

Arsenal appearances: 79

He signed for Arsenal over Tottenham despite the latter making numerous offers for him. Hit! In all seriousness, Sylvinho produced two solid years at Arsenal before being dislodged by Ashley Cole. It was a trophy-less spell for the Gunners, but Sylvinho was consistently impeccable and earned a place in the 2000/01 Premier League PFA Team of the Year.

Verdict: Hit

Wellington Silva

Time at Arsenal: 2010-2016

Arsenal appearances: 0

Wellington Silva had a trial with Arsenal in 2008 and scored four goals against Norwich for the academy side. The club naturally signed him the following year after he broke through at Fluminense. Work permit issues dominated the narrative of his early existence at Arsenal, but he was unable to make a good enough impression away from the club out on loan to force a way into Wenger’s plans when he finally got one. He even had a spell at Bolton for a bit where, upon signing, Wenger explained: “He’s absolutely stunning to watch and I believe Bolton will be surprised by his quality.”

He made 14 starts in the Championship in 2015/16 as Bolton finished dead last and suffered relegation to the third tier. Some ‘surprise’.

Verdict: Miss

Willian

Time at Arsenal: 2020-2021

Arsenal appearances: 37

It was quite the whirlwind time at Arsenal for Willian, who looked a shrewd signing in 2020/21, but his form nosedived as the season progressed, scoring just one goal in 37 games across all competitions. Last summer he terminated his contract by mutual consent two years early, describing his stint in north London as “the worst time that he had lived as a professional”, returning to Brazil with Corinthians as a result.

Verdict: Miss

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