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In Focus: Saliba's new deal Will be a relief for Arsenal
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Adam Drury
William Saliba excelled in Arsenal's defence last term
William Saliba excelled in Arsenal's defence last term

William Saliba was arguably the best defender in the Premier League last season.

The Frenchman, 22, was not even guaranteed a place in Arsenal's side last summer but quickly established himself as undroppable as Mikel Arteta's men pulled clear at the top of the English top flight.

A back injury halted his campaign in March and could have marked the end of his Gunners career had he not reportedly agreed a long-term contract at the Emirates over the last few days.

The news comes as a big boost to Arsenal, who dearly missed Saliba as they saw Manchester City overtake them to win the title. 

Bad timing

Unfortunately for Arsenal, the most recent reminder of Saliba's importance came in his absence.

He was injured during the Europa League exit to Sporting and did not play again for the rest of the season — a period that coincided with the Gunners' collapse in the title race.

Mikel Arteta's side were five points clear of Manchester City at the top of the table when their centre-back was hurt but won just five of their remaining 11 matches and ended up five points short.

Failing to beat West Ham, Southampton and Nottingham Forest cannot just be put down to one absentee but the North Londoners would clearly have had a better chance of securing silverware with Saliba in the side. 

Before and after

Arsenal dropped off without William Saliba in the starting XI
Arsenal dropped off without William Saliba in the starting XI

The difference Saliba makes to Arsenal is stark.

The Gunners conceded only 25 goals in his 27 Premier League appearances last season, including 12 clean sheets.

Without him, they shipped 18 goals in 11, including at least two on five occasions as stand-ins Rob Holding and Jakub Kiwior failed to hit the same heights.

Former Arsenal forward and Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson said: "As soon as he [Saliba] came out of the team, that's when Arsenal's title challenge came to an end.

"They started conceding goals left, right and centre. Until then, they looked solid and he was a big part of that."

Dominant defending

Saliba's aggression was a key part of Arsenal's ability to win the ball back and dominate when they were at their best last season.

Their No12 ranked top for possessions won in the defensive and middle thirds of all Premier League centre-backs from the top four teams.

A pass accuracy rate of 91.04%, meanwhile, proves how useful he is with the ball at his feet.

His conviction was lacking in Arteta's backline at the end of the campaign, resulting in multiple wobbles.

William Saliba is impressive both on and off the ball
William Saliba is impressive both on and off the ball

Bright future

Should Saliba's new deal be signed and sealed as expected it will come as a huge relief to Arteta, whose best defender was reportedly the subject of interest from multiple clubs.

Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich and Manchester United were all said to be keen on the eight-cap international, who had just one year left on his previous deal.

The Gunners can now concentrate on both getting their defender fully fit for next season and surrounding him with a better depth of quality at the back.

He joins Aaron Ramsdale and Bukayo Saka in signing long-term deals at the Emirates, meaning they should regularly be competing for the title having come so close in 2022-23. 


ArsenalPremier LeagueWilliam Saliba
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