Football Features

Is William Saliba the best defender in the Premier League?

By Harry Edwards

Published: 20:36, 2 May 2024

Former Arsenal captain William Gallas has named William Saliba as the best defender in the Premier League this season.

The Gunners boast the best defence in the Premier League, conceding just 28 goals in their 35 games, four fewer than second-placed Manchester City.

Arsenal’s defence has especially stepped up in 2024, with the Gunners conceding eight goals in 15 matches — keeping nine clean sheets. Saliba has played every game of that run, and all of Arsenal’s matches this season in the Premier League.

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That’s in contrast to this time last season. As everyone remembers well, Saliba picked up an injury in March 2023 that ruled him out for the remainder of the season.

While there were other contributing factors, many named Saliba’s injury as the turning point for Arsenal’s title charge faltering. The Gunners drew three and lost three of the 11 games he missed.

But without that disruption to their backline, Arsenal are staying strong and lead the Premier League with three games left to play — though it isn’t in their hands.

That begs the question, how good is Saliba?

“I will put William Saliba as the best defender in the Premier League this season,” Gallas said, per Chris Wheatley.

“Declan Rice has been the signing of the season. I think he has had an amazing season for Arsenal. It’s been his first season with the club – he has six goals and seven assists.”

Judging on our own Squawka Score for centre-backs, Saliba doesn’t rank in the top five, with a score of 57% — Virgil van Dijk still rules the roost in that regard.

In the Premier League this season, Saliba has been very much involved for Arsenal, with 2,890 touches and 2,415 passes completed. He ranks third in both metrics among Premier League centre-backs.

Saliba has also won possession in the defensive third 91 times, the sixth-most among centre-backs and in the middle third 105 times, more than any other centre-back in the Premier League this season.

But there is always someone better in most of the metrics. Saliba’s passing accuracy is an impressive 92.6% in the Premier League this season, but from our selection of Virgil van Dijk, Ruben Dias, Cristian Romero and Thiago Silva, Dias and Silva are more accurate with their passes.

Saliba’s long pass accuracy is also the worst of the five, with the lowest number of forward passes per 90 minutes in the Premier League. Of course, not every team plays in the same style, and this will have an impact on their centre-backs, but you might want Saliba to be doing a bit better.

Saliba does have the most recoveries in total at 202, but he falls just below Romero when it comes to per 90 minutes at 5.8 to the Tottenham man’s 6.2. The Frenchman also comes out bottom of the five on clearances, interceptions and blocks, but again, playing style and the defensive partner is will make a difference.

In Arsenal’s case, it’s Gabriel making the blocks, clearances and interceptions, as well as making more tackles per 90 minutes than Saliba.

Looking back at Saliba’s individual battles, he has won 59.82% of his aerial duels which, of course, pales in comparison to the likes of Van Dijk (81.99%), Romero (68.52%) and Silva (68.66%). However, he does beat Dias there.

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