Gabriel Magalhaes has emerged as a pivotal part of Arsenal’s Premier League title bid after difficult conversations with boss Mikel Arteta at the start of the season.
The Brazil defender moved to the Emirates Stadium in 2020 and, for the large part, has been a major player in Arteta’s side.
That changed in August when Gabriel found himself on the bench as Ben White moved to centre-back and Thomas Partey was installed at right-back.
He returned to the backline alongside William Saliba after the opening three games of the campaign, has not looked back since and is set to make his 150th appearance for the club in Sunday’s crucial London derby at West Ham.
He has played a large part in Arsenal boasting the joint-best defensive record in the Premier League this season – although he did score an own goal in the 3-1 win over Liverpool last weekend that saw the Gunners close to within two points of the summit.
“It was tough, obviously at the start. I wanted to play and it was very difficult for me but I understood what the coach had to do,” Gabriel told the PA news agency.
“It is difficult for any player to not be in the team but now I’m back in I want to keep on working hard to prove my worth.
“He (Arteta) spoke to me and obviously explained the reasons behind the decision. Why I should stay – but the most important thing was to remain focused and concentrate – he knew how important I was to the team, so I’m happy to be back and to be able to help the team in every game.
“I’m happy to be back in the team and hopefully I can help them moving forward.”
Gabriel’s form in January, in which he supplemented his defensive work with two goals in a crucial win over Crystal Palace, has seen him shortlisted alongside Kevin De Bruyne, Richarlison, Diogo Jota, Conor Bradley and Elijah Adebayo for the Premier League player of the month.
Asked if he feels it finally shows he is being appreciated by those outside of Arsenal after years of largely being overlooked for his team-mates, Gabriel added: “I’m very happy to be up for player of the month.
“Of course I always work hard every day to try to do my best on the pitch and realise my potential.
“The most important thing is the people around me who know my potential, and in terms of those outside – and if people devalue me, I’m happy for them if I change their mind.”
Arteta said Gabriel’s duties within his set-up have developed recently and believes the player took the right decision to stay put when he had been linked with a move away in previous windows.
“A lot of things have happened to him,” said the Spaniard.
“His role in the team has grown. His personal life is also very different to the one he had before with his family and his language.
“He also changed a lot of things in his life and improved his mentality. He can decide what he wants to be and I think he made the right call to take the direction he took.”
The 26-year-old was linked with a move to Juventus but has stayed put and is keen to continue to impress the people that matter to him.
“I think the most important people are those that are close to me; the team, the coaching staff, my family, my friends,” he added.
“I think that’s what’s most important. They’ve helped me a lot and continue to help me to grow every day, those who are close to me.
“So I’m very happy – those internal people and to keep impressing them and doing the best I can.”