How Saliba Can Fill Arsenal’s Defensive Holes
Another Arsenal hot property young loanee is William Saliba. The 19-year-old central defender, who was loaned back to AS Saint-Etienne as part of the £20 million deal to bring him to Arsenal, has been showing plenty of signs of why Arsenal fans should be excited.
This report will analyse the French youth international and Arsenal man and how his season has gone thus far.
Unfortunately, Covid-19 has brought the Ligue 1 season to an end and that is probably just as well for the outfit from the east of France. As it stands, Saint-Etienne languish in 17th place on 30 points, 3 off 18th place Nimes Olympique. Manager Claude Puel, former Southampton and Leicester boss, has been in charge for 20 Ligue 1 matches, after being appointed in early October. After an initial boost to form, Saint-Etienne fell apart shortly after Christmas, winning 1 of 9 matches in that period.
Unfortunately for Saliba, his season has been hindered with a hamstring and metatarsal fracture. This has kept him out for a combined 15 league games through the season. Saliba being injured has really come in tandem with Saint-Etienne’s fluctuating form. In the 12 league games Saliba has played in, Saint-Etienne have had a win rate of 33.3%. In comparison, the 15 league matches without Saliba have seen Saint-Etienne win just 20%. Furthermore, in the four wins Saliba has played in, Saint-Etienne have kept 4 clean sheets, whereas without him, they have had just 1. In all competitions, Saliba has played 17 matches, accruing 1583 minutes.
Despite his 6ft 3in frame, Saliba ranks 61st in Ligue 1 amongst his centre back counterparts for aerial challenges; attempting 3.4 aerial duals per 90 minutes. In total in Ligue 1 this season, Saliba has won 65% of his 40 aerial duels. In his own defensive third, Saliba has won 56% of his 32 aerial encounters. Saliba’s ability to intercept is something to be noted. The French man has intercepted 70 times this season. This is on average 4 times per 90 minutes. Saliba has made a further 223 ball recoveries in all competitions this season, 19 of which have come in the oppositions half. On average, Saliba records 13.7 ball recoveries per 90 minutes, which is the second-highest in Ligue 1 this season. A lot of these recoveries come through Saliba getting his body between man and ball, and easing his opponent out the way.
Saliba’s 6.21 defensive duals per 90 minutes, with a 76.71% win rate, ranks him 28th in Ligue 1. Of his total 71 won duels, 20 have come on the left flank, 19 in zone 14 (just in front of the penalty area), 17 on the right flank and 15 in the penalty box. This goes to show how well Saliba sniffs out the danger.
Passing and Dribbling
Saliba is very comfortable on the ball, completing 89.6% of his 757 passes this season. On average Saliba has played 44 passes per 90 minutes and 3.3 long passes per 90. Of Saliba’s 58 long passes, he has had a completion rate of 62%. Saliba often finds himself out in the fullback position looking to play a diagonal switch for the opposite side fullback or winger. Furthermore, Saliba is happy playing eye of the needle passes through the lines into the midfielders or playing chipped passes into the striker. He plays 14.9 forward passes per 90 minutes and 4.6 passes per 90 minutes, into the oppositions final third.
A major asset to Saliba’s game, is his dribbling ability. Saliba, much like Dayot Umpamecano, is very adept at bringing the ball out of defence and using his physicality to break the press. Saliba in all competitions, has attempted 25 dribbles this season, completing 64% of them. This shows that despite being just 19, Saliba is confident enough to take his man on and beat him. Moreover, in Ligue 1, Saliba attempts 1.45 dribbles per 90 minutes with a success rate of 58.82%. This ranks him third in the Ligue 1, out of centre backs for dribbling. Again, his dribbling leaves him in 9th place out of centre backs for progressive dribbles per 90 minutes with 1.62. He on average progresses the ball 89.76m per progressive run. This could e vital in breaking down low blocks.
Saliba does have a relatively high amount of ball losses. He on average loses the ball in his own third, 2.11 times per 90 minutes. He has lost the ball in “dangerous areas” (a ball lost which has led to a shot within 20 seconds), 0.39 times per 90 minutes. Saliba’s total 20 ball losses this season, have resulted in an expected goals of 0.61. Saliba’s mistakes have cost Saint-Etienne 1 goal this season. This largely could be down to a poor level of teammate around him and inexperience.
It’s important that Saliba can comfortably play in a high line and that he is effective in defending counter-attacks, through his positional sense. His success in winning 1v1 duals and 13.7 recoveries per 90 minutes, certainly shows he can do this. His pace, physique and calmness, is very important when drawn into those 1v1 situations. Saliba’s passing volume shows that he has the technical ability to become a top ball-playing centre-back.
Maybe symptomatic of being at Saint-Etienne, but Saliba doesn’t have the highest expected goal chain numbers. This means his contribution to possession chains which result in shots, isn’t the highest with a 0.17 XG-chain per 90. The XG-build-up metric shows a players contribution to moves that don’t result in shots or key passes and therefore demonstrates a players ability to aid possession sequences from deeper involvement. Saliba’s 0.16 XG-build-up per 90, again shows that he isn’t the most involved. This could be down to Claude Puel’s philosophy, however and would be something Arteta would want to see improvement in, given the possession-based style of play.
An important statistic for Arsenal and Arteta’s philosophy is counter-pressing success. Saliba attempts 5.02 counter-pressing recoveries per 90 minutes. This ranks him 15th in Ligue 1. This statistic shows that Saliba is very comfortable actively stepping out and recovering the ball when the team loses it. Great counter-pressing was never something you would associate with a Claude Puel side. However ranking 15th in Ligue 1, certainly shows the ability of Saliba to carry out this action.
In conclusion, Saliba really looks as though he is developing into a top central defender for Arsenal. He has a long way to go, however, the initial framework of his attributes, looks to be very promising. Providing Saliba can shake off any potential reoccurring injuries and develop as expected, then he will surely go onto greatness. He fits the profile of what it appears Mikel Arteta would want in a player. He is confident and comfortable on the ball and fills the criteria needed to be a central defender in the Premier League. Finding Saliba a long term partner will be a challenge for Arsenal. Ideally, Arsenal would pick up a defender who is left-footed, with a decent level of experience and leadership to help Saliba, especially in the short term.