Edu has already completed £27m deal for Arsenal’s own Virgil van Dijk to replace David Luiz


In the summer of 2019, Arsenal signed highly sought-after defender William Saliba from Saint-Etienne for £27million.

The young centre-back was heralded as a fantastic coup by many within the French game. However, almost two years on and the 20-year-old is still yet to make his Arsenal debut.

Last season Saliba enjoyed a successful loan spell with Saint-Etienne, overcoming a couple of injuries to make 17 appearances in all competitions and help guide his side to a French Cup final against PSG, an impressive feat for a teenager.

Arsenal fans were excited to see Saliba’s integration into the team under Mikel Arteta’s tutelage but it hasn’t quite worked out that way.

The Spaniard didn’t register his young defender in any squads for this season and Saliba ended up making a number of appearances for Arsenal’s Under-23s team instead.

In January all parties agreed it was best for Saliba to have another loan spell in France and he joined Ligue 1 side Nice for the remainder of the season.

He has since made 18 appearances for the Eagles but has he shown the maturity to play in the Premier League? Here, we’ve highlighted what talents Saliba has showcased so far.


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Defensive prowess

Saliba possesses an abundance of pace, an attribute that the current Arsenal back-line severely lack. The Frenchman often can get his teammates out of trouble by springing back in transition and stopping an impending opposition attack.

The 20-year-old displayed his remarkable recovery pace in the final seconds of January’s draw with Metz. Metz’s striker appeared to be clean through on goal but Saliba utilised his rare blend of speed and strength to shrug him off the ball and secure a point for Nice.

At 6ft 4in Saliba also has a large aerial presence and never shies away from a battle to win a header. Saliba’s former youth coach, Jean-Luc Vannuchi told The Telegraph : “My first impression was that this was the biggest man of his generation.

“The difference between him and the other players was massive.”

Vannuchi heaped the praise on his former star: “A mix of the two styles. With Varane because of his speed and power, and with Van Dijk, it is the interceptions, the positioning on the pitch.”

Reading of the game

Many young centre-backs are often rash, letting occasions get the better of them. However, this is not something that fazes Saliba.

Despite his inexperience he plays with a sense of freedom that transcends his age, something that can be seen with his approach to winning the ball back for his team.

Similar to the aforementioned Van Dijk, Saliba doesn’t make a high number of tackles. Instead, he places himself in advantageous positions, frequently backing away from opponents in an attempt to force them into a mistake.

This has been a highly successful tactic as he has only been dribbled past once in 16 league games this season.

When he does need to commit himself Saliba reads the game to a mature level, often successfully stepping up to intercept a pass into a striker’s feet.

In fact, Saliba has registered an impressive 1.78 interceptions a game this season. Comparatively, Gabriel is Arsenal’s most prolific central defender in this statistic, averaging 1.04 per match.



Arsenal defender William Saliba. (Image: James Chance/Getty Images).
Arsenal defender William Saliba. (Image: James Chance/Getty Images).

Ability with the ball

It is no secret that Mikel Arteta favours centre-backs who are good with their feet. His Arsenal side attempts to play out from the back at every opportunity, sometimes to their own detriment.

If Saliba is to be integrated next season he will have no problems fitting in with Arteta’s defensive build-up.

The promising centre-half is an accomplished passer, both in terms of diagonal switching of play and in terms of passes between the lines to evade a press.

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This knack for finding teammates in difficult situations is an attribute that Arsenal have struggled with this term and the addition of Saliba come the summer could be a welcome one given the high volume of self-inflicted goals the Gunners ship.

This season the Frenchman has averaged 4.44 passes into the opposition final third per 90 minutes, more than any Arsenal centre-back.

Saliba’s impressive displays in the south of France even earned him Nice’s player of the month for January and he will be hoping his fine form can land him in Mikel Arteta’s plans next season.





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