Football News

“It was complicated” – Gabriel Jesus highlights William Saliba injury as problem for Arsenal’s Premier League title hunt

By Harry Edwards

Published: 11:04, 6 July 2023

Arsenal forward Gabriel Jesus has hinted that William Saliba’s injury played a big part in the Gunners’ Premier League title bid falling short last season.

Mikel Arteta’s side led the Premier League table for 248 days across the 2022/23 campaign and were favourites for the title going into April, knowing their destiny was in their own hands even with Manchester City having a game in hand. The Gunners were eight points clear of second-placed Man City at the end of March, having only played a game more.

But in the end, Arsenal finished five points behind Man City who claimed their third Premier League title in a row as part of just the second ever Treble in English men’s football history. Part of the reason for Arsenal’s slump in the final run-in was a spell of four games without a win, which also included a 4-1 defeat to Man City.

The run started with a 2-2 draw with Liverpool which saw Liverpool give up a two-goal lead, a feat that was mimicked the following week away to West Ham. It could have been even worse, but Arsenal themselves managed to salvage a point from two goals down against Southampton before the defeat to Man City.

Eleven goals conceded in just four games, Arsenal’s poor run came at the same time as Saliba suffered a back injury which kept him out for the remainder of the season. And Jesus believes that while Arsenal had managed to deal with his own injury, they struggled to replace Saliba.

“When he plays, we concede few goals, when he doesn’t play, the number increases,” he told the Denilson Show.

“When I got injured, Eddie (Nketiah) replaced me very well. Then we signed Leo (Trossard). We kept the pace.

“But when Saliba got injured, it was complicated. The other defenders are good, but we were playing in a certain way. Look at the stats we concede a lot less with him.”

While Arsenal’s defence was the third-best in the Premier League, behind only Man City and Newcastle United, there was a notable change in their record when playing with and without Saliba. The Frenchman was ever-present for Arsenal’s first 27 games of the season, helping them to keep 12 clean sheets – without him, Arsenal managed just two clean sheets from 11 games.

Although they conceded more goals with Saliba than without, this is of course due to the volume of games, but when you break it down into averages the difference is clear to see. When Saliba was in the Arsenal team, they conceded 0.93 goals per 90 minutes in the Premier League from 0.94 Expected Goals on Target Conceded. Without the Frenchman, Arsenal conceded 1.64 goals per 90 from 1.4 xGOTC.

Arsenal also averaged more shots conceded without Saliba than with the Frenchman in the team. In their first 27 Premier League games, Arsenal conceded 225 shots at an average of 8.33 per 90, but in their final 11 they conceded 118 at an average of 10.72 per 90. That’s an increase of 2.39 in shots conceded without Saliba in the team.

Saliba himself ended the season with 82 clearances and 42 headed clearances as well as 53 aerial duels won, in the top 20 at the time of his injury. The Frenchman was also important in Arsenal building out from the back, with 1,697 passes completed bettered by just two players while he was available for selection.