Tuesday, April 23, 2024

William Saliba can provide answers to Arsenal’s defensive questions

Who is William Saliba, and what can Arsenal fans expect from him when he arrives next season?

Phil Costa @_PhilCosta reports.

Last summer, Arsenal centred their recruitment around experience in hope of bringing back Champions League football to Emirates Stadium. Twelve months on, with a depleted budget, inflated contracts and more trips to Belarus on the schedule – that brief has since changed.

18-year-old Gabriel Martinelli was brought in from Ituano, while the club pursue deals for Celtic favourite Kieran Tierney and Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha. Arguably their most interesting piece of business, however, has been the signing of Saint-Etienne defender William Saliba.

He was loaned back to Les Verts as part of the initial deal, but who is the Frenchman, is he the answer to the long-standing problems in defence and why is he costing the best part of €30m?

Under Jean-Louis Gasset, Saint-Etienne would often deploy a 4-2-3-1 formation that relied heavily on creating through central areas. However, that changed in January after a run of two wins from nine games, with the integration of a fluid back three and subsequent first-team introduction of Saliba.

This resulted in a shift in style, funneling most of their forward play through wide areas and more importantly, stretching the pitch. But while this allows you to exploit space in behind, that vulnerability can then be reciprocated. Which made the decision to start a 17-year-old defender with no senior experience even more bizarre.

But the seamless nature of his transition (and clever change of system) resulted in ASSE securing Europa League qualification after winning eight of their last nine Ligue 1 matches. Place Saliba under the microscope and his impact becomes even more impressive.

In what has been a welcome shift of late, the 18-year-old is another exciting talent moving away from the outdated expectations of what a centre back should be. Comfortable when receiving the ball from his goalkeeper or defensive partners, he will usually look to initiate attacks and even better, play through the lines of a high press or solid defensive structure. 54% of his 664 passes last term were played forward, while his 2.3 progressive passes per 90 minutes saw him behind only Loic Perrin (3.1) in Les Verts’ backline.

The Frenchman has also shown a willingness to carry the ball if passing lanes are blocked, before finding a midfielder or full-back who can then progress play further. His considerable frame can make him look unorthodox in possession, but he is always in control and uses his body well to evade onrushing strikers. He also boasts accomplished footwork in tight areas and uses clever touches to recycle possession instead of simply hacking clear – traits which would typically suit playing for Arsenal.

More importantly, alongside his assured technical ability, Saliba is very much a defender at heart. For such a young player with less than 20 first-team appearances to his name, the way he operates is very natural. He is a fine reader of in-game situations, anticipates passes well and in a similar fashion to former Gunners captain Per Mertesacker, possesses a knack of finding himself in the right position.

Further highlighting this point, the Bondy-born starlet made more interceptions per 90 (2.4) than any other teenager in Europe’s top five leagues last season. He is a clean defender, using patience to win the ball instead of relying on sheer force and aggression, which can be costly should your timings be wrong.

In contrast, his physicality can also underwhelm at times. For somebody blessed with such a powerful build, he can be hesitant in direct duels – particularly aerially – after winning just 16 of the 34 he competed for last term. However, this could simply be an adjustment phase for the teenager who dominated at youth level, often playing one or two years above his age group. Senior football is a different type of competition and learning how to handle yourself against grown men requires experience – which is why the loan back makes perfect sense.

“He is a natural,” Gasset explained in April after securing Saliba to a long-term deal.

“William has good people around him, experienced people around him, but he was never scared and I love this quality. Every challenge we gave, every question we asked, he had the answers.”

And providing answers is what makes Saliba so promising. Playing as a wide centre back or right back, you are forced to cover plenty of ground and often find yourself isolated against quick, tricky wingers. But one performance from his breakthrough campaign stands out – against Allan Saint-Maximin of Nice.

Saint-Maximin was second in Europe for completed dribbles (143) last season and received absolutely no joy from the teenager. Not only were his tackles timed to perfection, but his recovery speed and strength when challenged were also hugely encouraging. Unai Emery spoke about his players becoming ‘chameleons’ and being able to adapt to uncomfortable situations – situations in which the teenager came through with flying colours.

Both on a simpler and more analytical scale, Saliba ticks plenty of boxes. He is physically impressive, capable in possession and already plays with a confidence found in defenders far more experienced. Many fans have questioned his immediate return to the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard next season but asking a teenager (with less than 1,500 senior minutes under his belt) to improve this fragile side is a huge ask.

Sokratis is solid if unspectacular, Laurent Koscielny wants out and Shkodran Mustafi would somehow find a way to blame others at Sunday league level. Arguments for adding another defensive option are entirely valid, but allowing the Frenchman to develop naturally – away from pressure and expectation – will benefit him and the club long-term.

The harsh reality is that Arsenal are in a mess of their own making. Without investment from KSE, scouting must become more intelligent and faith should be placed in young players as a cost-effective way to bridge the gap. Comparisons to Raphael Varane are already overblown and parts of his game will undoubtedly need refining. But after the frustration of losing Sven Mislintat – and with him a clear transfer strategy – Saliba is without doubt a signing to be excited by.

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Interesting write up. Looking forward to seeing him play for us.

David C

I just saw a news that Ozil and Kolasinac were attacked by sum knife welding criminals in London today, thank God they were not hurt, But what the Hell… Should Footballers start moving around with security.


No, they should just travel with Kolasinac. My word, he’s really something!

Drogheda Gunner



is he part-time MMA? look at his foot work!


That’s London for you.


Interesting indeed. This is honestly the most comprehensive discussion of a player’s qualities and attributes I can remember from Blogs, very good work. I’m pleased with this move and getting ceballos & martinelli but still have seen other deals that make me wonder why we’re not in for a given player. Nabil Fekir, Eljif Elmas, Jordan Veretout, Delph, Santi Mina, Lucas Ocampos, Hector Herrera, and Manuel Locatelli are all players who moved at reasonable fees (or for free/on loan) I would have been intrigued to see us bid on. Alternatively I would have been happy if we spent our whole… Read more »

Milton Brown

Sounds an awful lot like Mamadou Sakho, hopefully doesn’t encounter similar obstacles on the road to reaching his potential.


We’ve been here before but too many people like to be in dreamland.

Not too long ago people bigging up Yann Mvilla, remember him?

The next big thing.

Wenger gambled on youth and potential but he never allowed such exposure at 27m, and particularly when we really need immediate impact now.


Which part? Sounds the complete opposite to me, Sakho (and many other disappointing centre backs) looked monstrous at 17/18 due to physicality but faded away when the competition caught up. This article suggests otherwise.


I look forward to him improving our team. Next year!

Until then, who do we have lined up?




Anyone got a spare time machine??

Good signing, and only way we could sign was to agree the years loan. No please sort out the defenseman for this season.

#now please

John Noshi

And Mustafi would find someone to blame in Sunday league game ?????

Hopey dopeu

Never read something more true indeed… To be honest that maube the most frustrating about him, i can accept mistakes if you try and grow and learn. But what he seems to do is throw his hands up and shout at the ref or other players. I used to do that when i was 13….


Exciting breakdown. Really looking forward to seeing him play for us in a year’s time. Ceballos strikes me as not just filling a gap in our squad, but also helping us buy some time to develop Willock or Smith Rowe into players who could potentially nail down that spot after he goes back to Madrid. In a similar fashion, I wonder if there are any CBs out there who we could get on loan to bridge the gap until Saliba comes in without (further) splashing a ton of cash. It doesn’t seem to happen as often as it does with… Read more »


Great summary. Watching his video comps, it’s already noticeable the way he demoralises attacking players who go up against him. Rio Ferdinand, Jaap Stam and Sol Campbell used to do that too.

Whether he can do it on a cold, wet night in Stoke next year is another matter ?


Fortunately we no longer have to endure Stoke

Scott P

Long may this persist


Are you saying Stoke are returning to the EPL next season?


Is it just me???….but damn it…this boy doesn’t have much weaknesses….looking forward to him breaking plays at Anfield and Ethihad.. I’m sure van dijk is jealous right now


You lot are easily fooled. This is cosmetics that don’t even make any sense. We have a limited budget at 40m (maybe we can add 20m to it) BUT at 27m (even in installments, it will take a chunk out of what they feel they can spend on remainding positions that need rienforcement. Considering they would not follow to price of Tierney at 25m (never mind the efficacy of dealing with this position at this point of time, we are not going to spend pots of money this summer. So this will have effect on the quality of the player(s)… Read more »

Drogheda Gunner

Your so fucking negative


The management said the 40m budget is complete bollocks. We have to accept the club has money to spend, clearly more then 40m. Else why waste most of it on a loanee.


He’s only played 19 games to judge his stats by.

The likes of De Ligt, Upamecano and Koyate have over 49-50 games of consistent performance.

At this stage, Saliba has a 50-50 chance either delivering on promise or failing to. We’ve seen plenty of stats on players like Mvilla and the likes recommending them to us and how they would be the next BIG thing.

The problem is we are eventually coughing up BIG money on a player with no immediate impact plus should he fail to deliver will cost us.

Don Cazorleone

So.. you complain there aren’t enough stats, then complain that the stats for others weren’t predictive enough…
Anyone’d think you’re just here to piss and moan about everything regardless of which way the wind blows.

Der Kaiser

Great news – buying some of the outstanding young talent in Europe. There is a world shortage of grat centre backs – hence why figures of £50m plus are muted for Harry Magguire ( good olayer but not great)


But there are better options.

And I’d rather use the money spent on Saliba to add to the value of the players in the other positions we HAVE to bring in NOW so we can add the best quality possible.


How? 1) He has ZERO immediate impact. He is going back out on loan. 2) His stats are over a mere 16-19 senior matches in one season. Contrast Upamecano or Koyate at RB Liepzig who have amassed 49-55 matches. 3) We are paying a whopping 27m. Sure installments but still impact to what we will STILL have to spend on solution for Cback (and wide position). PLUS should he fail to deliver, we will stuck with a massive loss which if we are NOT in CL next season will further compound issues in market. It will also be very difficult… Read more »


If Saloba has another good season in France his value will be at least double by then. It really is a good deal to buy him now.

Peter Story Teller

Precisely. If he plays to his potential in France this season he will be £50 to £60M next season and we will not be able to afford him.
We have done what we need to do to secure his services and this is almost the first signs of planned recruitment which is what we have all been calling for.


It’s the price that makes me think the powers that be are convinced this guy is a sure thing.


Not for at least 12mths he can’t


This is all nonsense gobbly gook. You can say the same of say Upamecano and Koyate.

And they have featured over way more games so their stats are over a longer period of consideration.


‘nonsense gobbly gook’ oh the irony!


The reality is too many people are gullible and want to believe what they prefer to.

They prefer not to see reality.

We have NOT solved our Cback issue.

Hopefully we will go in for Rugani but I fail to see why bother with Saliba then being we could have used the money to have got Tierney for 25m.

It does NOT make ANY sense.

Don Cazorleone

CB issue?
What CB issue?

I thought it was Torreira’s fault that we shipped blah blah blah


Meh. Could be another Calum Chambers. A very expensive gamble for a young unproven kid.

My Cousin Vinai (Formerly Faisal Narrage)

Apparently Saliba was targeted late last year by Arsenal, which would mean he’s likely one of Sven’s targets.

Yes it wouldn’t surprise me if Raul and Vinai went trawling through Mislintat’s recycling bin after he quit (Mislintat looks like a recycler) and at the bottom of the bin they found a screwed up yellow post-it note with ‘Saliba’ written on it. Unless it was Sven’s final lunch order for the canteen lady, and it actually said ‘Salad’.


Yes it doesn’t surprise me that Mislintat groupies keep fantasising about his shaggy-haired genius.

Never mind the fact that it’s just as likely Saliba was spotted by our chief French football scout Gilles Grimandi, before he left to become Technical Director at Nice.

But if it was Sven, I’m sure there’s a glowing media article coming out soon with him taking credit for it. Because not only is he a loveable genius, he was also a bit of a media whore.


Saliba appears to be the final signing from Mislintat’s black book. So what is the strategy going forward from Emery, Vinai, Raul? So far a loan signing last January from Barcelona, and a loan signing today from Real Madrid. Is this going to be a pattern going forward? I’m not opposed to quality signings on loan as they are financially very low risk. Could be shrewd business in the short term. Now I wonder if James Rodriguez is still available on loan……


Cebllos isn’t Mslintat. Nor did Mslintat negotiate this deal or the Slaiba one which is frankly a rubbish deal if it does not work out. Too much risk and no immediate return plus impact likely to other signings. Mslintat’s black book probably has everyone. The problem with him is he only signs those he is closely connected to. We need better. Campos a far better Technical director, or Monchi Ragnick plus Zorg is the real genius at Dortmund. Mslintat is a glorified scout. Raul was a ‘director of football relations’. Neither negotiated well and managed instead to overload our wage… Read more »


Next to useless, I’m glad he’s gone. The real genius at Dortmund is Zorg. Mslintat is a glorified scout. He may have a black book but he bought chiefly at his convenience rather than what we really needed. Some good signings some OK some poor ones too. Not any better than Dick Law and Wenger. Inconvenient truth. Mhkitaryan may be free but was a waste of time and his salary plus Lichsteiner (and then the poor contract renegotiation for Ozil) meant we were in Panic Loan territory last Jan being able to only bring in a low on confidence Suarez… Read more »

Don Cazorleone

Did you just reply to yourself to confirm to yourself that Zorg is a genius?

That’s some next level need-a-hobby type shit


To be fair, ‘Zorg’ is also a next level typo


Is it wrong to append another response to the original one? Jeez!


I’m tired of you Mislintat fanboys. The guy’s gone, the club’s moved on, but the strategy remains the same. Focus on youth with huge upside, but find guys with more experience to plug the major gaps. So far we’ve signed an 18 yr old Brazilian who’s already trained with his national team, an 18 yr old being compared favourably with Varane, and we’re getting a season of use from a 22 yr old Spaniard who would otherwise cost at least 50m to buy outright. Our major target, Zaha, is coming into his prime at 26, and he’ll need no adaptation… Read more »


Ozil and Kolasinac were attacked by knife wielding robbers in London. I know fans want Ozil off the wage bill, but this is a little extreme no?



You want defensive news, Kolasinac fighting off knife wielding assailants.

Ozil probably jogging back.

Tony Hall


Not this season he can’t …


For 27m (no doubt in installments but we’re paying something this season)…and it will chip off the spend on other players…give the transfer team an excuse either to bring sub par stop gap measure or not bother at all.

Big risk 27m for a player who has barely featured. His stats are judged on a narrow spectrum.


The club are looking at his 19 performances (which were very, very good) and his potential. If we waited a year before signing him, his price would have been much higher and we would have had a lot more competition for his signature. This is the Mbappe of centerbacks (Mbappe’s father literally coaches him) and he’s all ours now, be happy. We only paid a small fee upfront (£3 million) which was mostly covered by the sale of Amaechi.


His name is actually Konate.
We got your point the first 5 times you posted the same thing.
Not wanting to betray blogs but your own dedicated blog would be a fun read.



Helps clears things up a bit.

Again some people out there on the net believe we aren’t paying anything for Saliba.

Eventually we will pay up to 38m for him!

We are forking out 5m for him this season as we speak to be a non feature. Whilst it seems a paltry sum, remember this could be the difference between signing Tierney or not or perhaps going for an Everton Soares or a lesser player.

Considering the limits of our current budget, 5m will have an impact.

Zuhair Ul Haq

For the LOVE OF GOD ARSENAL please fucking sign Santori as head of transfers or some fucking bullshit so that he can fulfill his frankly annoying wish of signing Upanckeola and whoever else he wants, BECAUSE CLEARLY THIS LAD CANNOT STOP BEING THE MOST ANNOYING, NEGATIVE VERSION OF HIMSELF.



He may be a solution, but if he is it will be a solution postponed as we won’t see him until the season after next! Given the crisis we have in central defence now, that’s little comfort for the coming season I suggest. The thought of Mustafi, surely now one of the poorest (but best paid) defenders in the EPL, in the heart of that defence should make us all worry for a start. Add to that the inevitable absence of Sokratis, through his chronic and continuing ill-discipline on the pitch, and you have the makings of a disaster waiting… Read more »


He may be a solution, but if he is it will be a solution postponed as we won’t see him until the season after next! Given the crisis we have in central defence now, that’s little comfort for the coming season I suggest. The thought of Mustafi, surely now one of the poorest (but best paid) defenders in the EPL, in the heart of that defence should make us all worry for a start. Add to that the inevitable absence of Sokratis, through his continuing ill-discipline and we don’t really have a defence to speak of, do we.


He may be a solution, but if he is it will be a solution postponed as we won’t see him until the season after next! Given the crisis we have in central defence now, that’s little comfort for the coming season I suggest.


Just a question not related.

What happened to Mavropanos? I didn’t see him during the US tour. Did he get injured again?


Glad we got the signing done, but unfortunately will be no help this year and if nothing else changes before the window closes we’ll be stuck with a center back pairing of Sokratis (who is fine if he controls his reckless fouls) and Mustafi (we all know what he is capable of) as likely starters with Mavropanos, Chambers and possibly Monreal as the backups. Holding will be in the mix too of course once he is cleared to play (which I know could be soon), but realistically is going to take a while for him to be close to 100%.… Read more »


Well said. The pairing of the ill-disciplined Sokratis and the frankly useless Mustafi worries me greatly. One probably won’t on on the pitch long enough to make a difference, and the other may as well not be for the contribution made in most games. I think Chambers is on Emery’s “departures” list and hasn’t been playing as a central defender for much of his time at Fulham (and he’s not really much good in that position, is he). Mavropanos isn’t the finished article. Koscielny will almost certainly gone – best for everyone. Monreal is only an emergency stop-gap. That leaves… Read more »


Do we know if there is an agreement of sorts in place, should he (god forbid) suffer a bad injury? can the transfer still be called off? Just, you know, our injury record and everything.

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