When William Saliba was loaned out yet again in the summer, this time to French side Marseille, many Arsenal fans were scratching their heads.
Huge amounts of frustration set in. Signing a defender for £27m on a five-year deal back in 2019, many expected him to see significant game time, however as we know this hasn’t eventuated at all.
With the likes of Rob Holding, Pablo Mari (this season), David Luiz, and Shkodran Mustafi (previously) all getting game time at the Emirates in recent times, Saliba was still sent out on loan. It didn’t add up. With the Arsenal defense being its biggest problem area, why would the club send out a player with so much ability, and who is widely considered a better option than all those players mentioned above?
Well, the answer is becoming clearer. Arteta wanted Saliba to get a consistent run of games under his belt before trying to establish himself in the Arsenal first team. The 20-year-old centre-back is now a seasoned campaigner in Ligue 1 and seemingly has the world at his feet.
Arsenal to profit from outstanding William Saliba form as central defender continues to impress for Marseille in successful loan spell
After six months in 2020 in which he saw no first-team football, Saliba is showing signs of being the quality player Arsenal hoped they’d signed over two years ago.
The thing that has stood out so far in his short stint with Marseille is his leadership – he’s now even acting as French Under-21 captain. It is no secret that Arteta loves playing out from the back as seen with the acquisition of Ben White from Brighton, Gabriel, and also with Aaron Ramsdale, all of whom are excellent with the ball at their feet. They are calm, composed and perhaps most importantly, can kickstart attacks from deep.
Saliba has played on the right side of a back three for Marseille this season and like White, Gabriel, and Ramsdale, it is his ability to play the ball forward and get his team going that is most impressive. Playing for Arsenal requires certain skills and one is being able to play with the ball at your feet and complete passes, according to Fbref, Saliba is completing an astonishing 93.7% of his passes this season, something that no other Arsenal player can beat with over 45 minutes of game time being played.
To further get an understanding of just how good Saliba is playing out from the back and what it can do for his team, according to one-versus-one, he ranks in the top 10 in Ligue 1 for total passes, pass completion, and expected build-up goals. So, in short, when he does move the ball, it is into attacking and threatening areas and this is what will please Arteta the most. That, and the consistent game time.
Another thing worth noting is Saliba’s willingness to progress. He is not one for simply taking the easy backward or sideways pass, the 20-year-old loves to get the game moving which no doubt makes him a valuable weapon in attack despite playing in defense: he can carry, go short, or go long.
That is what he can bring to the attacking end for Arsenal, but defensively he is equally adept and is showing why Arsenal splashed £27m on him. During the off-season he’s also worked tirelessly on his physique. The man is a unit.
How about statistically? For those who like the numbers, Saliba is one to admire as he continues to rack up impressive metrics from his time on the southern French coast.
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