Arsenal's signing of William Saliba has understandably generated plenty of excitement. Joining from Saint-Etienne, where he'll return on loan for next season, Saliba should be ready to make his mark in England after another year of experience in Ligue 1.
Having enjoyed a breakthrough campaign with Les Verts, where he rapidly went about making a name for himself after debuting against Toulouse in September 2018, the 18-year-old demonstrated a maturity that belies his years to handle the step up in class.
Going on to feature 19 times in all competitions, he established himself as a starter for Jean-Louis Gasset's men, who secured Europa League qualification via their fourth-placed league finish. Playing with confidence, clarity, intelligence and showing what an impressive athlete he is, there's so much to like about Saliba.
Standing a towering 193 cm and boasting a muscular frame, the Frenchman's an imposing figure for any attacker. Strong, fast, agile and possessing great balance, he hasn't looked out of place at all against grown men. Using his upper-body strength, he's unbalanced many an adversary, while his leap allows him to win his fair share of aerial duels.
Saliba constantly checks his surroundings to help him read his opponents' movement. This, allied to his pace, means he tracks runs in behind, into the channels and deals with transition phases effectively.
Although there's room for development in Saliba's positioning, he still performs well for his age. He knows when to step out, drop back, hold his post or shift across. This means Saliba is adept at blocking forward passes and is well placed to deal with crosses and cutbacks.
And despite his youth, Saliba has shown plenty of leadership, initiative and tactical understanding in Ligue 1.
Playing and training alongside Les Verts' defenders, including Loic Perrin, Timothée Kolodziejczak, Neven Subotic, Gabriel Silva and former Arsenal man Mathieu Debuchy, Saliba is learning from some experienced heads.
The statistics show that Saliba is an all-round defender. He wins an average of 2.2 aerial duels per game, makes 1.85 clearances and 5.9 interceptions per game, completes eight ball recoveries per game, makes 1.6 tackles per game and wins roughly 70 per cent of all his defensive duels.
Saliba contributes effectively in offensive situations too. Passing the ball with composure and accuracy, he helps construct attacks and bypasses the press. He gets the ball into his forwards' feet with solid ground passes - keeping it simple instead of attempting lofted through-balls or crossfield switches.
His offensive numbers are encouraging: per game he averages 1.20 successful dribbles, 1.84 accurate long balls, 39.07 passes and 2.54 passes into the final third. Not bad at all for a centre back.
Former Arsenal defender, Lauren, certainly thinks Saliba has what it takes to enjoy a memorable career. “Saliba is strong, tall, he can come out of the back with the ball and is an international for France," he said. "He reads the game very well, which is important for a player at the back. You have to anticipate and he looks very good at just 18, so the future is bright.”
Working under the meticulous Unai Emery at Arsenal should see Saliba fine-tune his game. Before that, it's a wise decision that Arsenal have agreed to loan him back to Saint-Etienne, where he'll continue to gain vital top-flight experience.
At just 18 and with so much scope for improvement, the acquisition of Saliba is a real coup for the Gunners. He appears destined for a long and fruitful career.
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