Premier League: What new signing William Saliba brings to Arsenal
In a saga that has seemingly lasted for the majority of the transfer window, Arsenal have finally secured the signature of St Etienne defender William Saliba. As part of a deal reportedly worth around £27m, the 18-year-old will spend a season on loan at his former club before joining up with the Gunners next summer.
The Arsenal hierarchy felt it imperative to sign Saliba now before the already present interest from Europe’s elites translated into inflated bids. Luckily for the Gunners, it was only Tottenham Hotspur who tried to rival them this summer, but as history has shown us before, Spurs are no match for Arsenal.
Many Arsenal fans will be upset that the higher-ups are spending a large chunk of their alleged ‘£45m’ budget on a player that won’t even be coming this season. However, alternative reports suggest that next to none of this summer’s pot will be used on Saliba, as the deal is comprised of installments and add-on-based payments.
But what does Saliba bring to Arsenal? There are quite a few things.
This may sound like a wrestling remark, but Saliba is a 6’4, 182lbs beast. At the tender age of 18, the Frenchman already boasts a dominant physical frame that will serve him well in the Premier League.
You have to go back to the days of Tony Adams, Sol Campbell and Steve Bould to remember the last time the Gunners had an imposing centre-back in their ranks. Instead, since then, Arsenal have signed the likes of Sebastien Squillaci, Pascal Cygan, Philippe Senderos, Johan Djourou and Shkodran Mustafi - defenders who have installed more fear into their teammates than opponents.
Saliba's commanding presence can be seen through his impressive defensive contributions. Last season, he averaged 1.8 interceptions, 1.8 aerial duels won, 2.7 clearances and 2 tackles per game in 16 appearances. It is clear the 18-year-old is not afraid of pushing his weight around, and his presence will go a long way in combating Arsenal’s ever-present aerial weaknesses.
At the start of last season, we saw Unai Emery place added focus on playing out from the back. However, when it was clear the likes of Sokratis and Mustafi were going to struggle with this, Emery instead opted for goal kicks to be pumped higher up to either the full-backs or the striker.
The signing of Saliba will give Emery confidence in reinvigorating that philosophy.
The French phenomenon is notably good with the ball at his feet. In 16 Ligue 1 appearances last season, he maintained an impressive 85.6% pass accuracy, averaging 40.3 passes per game.
Saliba is technically comfortable with the ball at his feet but when needed, he calls upon his strength and pace to get him out of tight spaces.
With Rob Holding set to heavily feature in Emery’s future plans, Arsenal could have a starting CB partnership of Saliba-Holding for the 2020-21 season, a partnership that would epitomise the premise of Emery-ball.
A secure future
When an 18-year-old is commanding a fee of £27m, you know he’s something special. French journalists across Europe have been waxing lyrical about the youngster, with some putting him in the same bracket as Kylian Mbappé.
Saliba is only 18 but is already a starter at St Etienne and a firm part of France’s U19s. This was predicted when the club decided to offer him a professional contract at the age of 17.
Having already signed the prolific Gabriel Martinelli, it’s clear the Gunners are looking to secure their future during a time of great instability on the pitch. The promotion of Freddie Ljungberg to the assistant manager position only re-iterates how serious the Gunners are about youth.
There’s no doubt about it: Saliba is a massive coup for the Gunners. The 18-year-old has the potential to be a mainstay at the Emirates for a long time to come, building his legend and reputation along the way.Published 25 Jul 2019, 22:31 IST