Why Arsenal fans are right to be excited about the arrival of William Saliba
By Rob Worthington
When Arsenal announced the signing of William Saliba last summer for a fee of £27 million, I’d be lying if I said I knew a great deal about the player. Yes, I’d watched my fair share of YouTube compilations of the teenager, but unfortunately YouTube compilations can only provide so much insight.
However, after tuning into a number of ASSE games this season featuring the Frenchman and having read many great things about him, I can confidently say that this guy will be an instant upgrade on our current defensive options, despite his tender age. With William Saliba this season, Saint-Etienne have lost just 5 matches. Without him, Les Vertes have lost 12 matches. It is clear that the Arsenal loanee has an extremely positive effect on the Ligue 1 outfit’s backline and every time I’ve watched him he seems to bring a sense of calmness and solidity to the whole team. At just 19-years-old, this is the sign of a player playing at a level way beyond his years. His personal stats are also laudable. His tackle success of 83.9% this season demonstrates that it is irregular for the Frenchman to be beaten in a one on one situation, having only been dribbled past 5 times this season. Such statistics defensively are unmatched by any defender who was played more than 10 games for Arsenal this season. For me, this makes it clear that Saliba will immediately stake his claim on a central-defensive position when he finally joins the club at the beginning of next season, whenever that may be.
His ability on the ball is equally impressive- an asset crucial to any centre-back in Mikel Arteta’s team. The French under-21 international has completed an impressive 88.1% of his passes this season and has vividly shown his ability regarding successful long passes, by completing 83.4% of these since September 2019. To provide some context for this, David Luiz, the best ball-playing defender currently at the club, has completed 86.3% of his passes and just 78.1% of his long passes this season. Saliba is not just an outstanding prospect, but is also already a brilliant player and has the attributes to fit perfectly in the possession based style our Spanish head coach is looking to implement. Another element to Saliba which impresses me is something which cannot be shown through stats, and that is his character. He comes across as someone who is absolutely determined to reach the top. Former Arsenal and Manchester United defender Mikael Silvestre has tipped his compatriot to “start from the get-go when he joins Arsenal” and I can see exactly why. He has the maturity to walk into our first-team and I predict that is exactly what he’ll do. Last week, Bacary Sagna stated that “You need some security, you need some presence and he [William Saliba] has that.” Of course, he is young and he’ll need time to adjust to the demands of the Premier League so we cannot expect faultless performances from the teenager straight away. Nonetheless, he seems to me like someone who is insistent on becoming the best, and I personally cannot wait to see him representing the gunners next season.