Football News

William Saliba is one of the Premier League’s four best centre-backs – Emmanuel Petit

By Harry Edwards

Published: 13:50, 24 October 2023

Arsenal defender William Saliba has been hailed as one of the best in his position in the Premier League.

Mikel Arteta’s side are one of two teams still unbeaten in the Premier League after nine games, winning six and drawing three. The Gunners are just two points behind early leaders Tottenham Hotspur, falling away ever so slightly after their 2-2 draw with Chelsea.

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Arsenal had to work hard for that draw, coming from two goals down to secure a point at Stamford Bridge, with goals from Declan Rice and Leandro Trossard inside the final 15 minutes. Arsenal went 1-0 down in that game via a penalty, with Saliba penalised for handball. Some believe it was a harsh decision, with Saliba’s arm in a natural position for a player who was jumping, and Mykhailo Mudryk heading the ball at him from close range.

Either way, although the penalty was awarded against Saliba, it can’t really be described as an error. Saliba ended the game with 105 touches of the ball, more than any other player for either team, with 89 passes completed, another match-high.

Defensively, Saliba won both of his attempted duels, made two clearances, one interception and one tackle. The two goals let in at Stamford Bridge took Arsenal’s total tally for the season to eight conceded, with only Manchester City (seven) conceding fewer in the Premier League this season.

The Gunners have kept four clean sheets in the Premier League so far with Saliba ever-present, and the Frenchman is yet to be dribbled past. That stat will immediately make some fans think of Virgil van Dijk, who wasn’t beaten by a take-on for a long period of time.

Saliba also ranks highly for true tackle success rate at 88%, with only four defenders having a better rate in the Premier League this season.

Former Arsenal midfielder Emmanuel Petit believes Saliba is among the best centre-backs in the league.

“I think William Saliba is one of the best central defenders in the league, if not the best,” Petit told

“His positioning, tackling and aggressiveness is so impressive and he has improved so much in a short space of time. Van Dijk was the best defender in the league for so long, and he was very impressive against Everton but he is not the best anymore. He has regressed since his injury and he lost that consistency. I think the best defenders in the league are Saliba, [Manuel] Akanji, [Ruben] Dias and [Josko] Gvardiol.”

Petit also tried to temper some of the talk about Saliba, believing it to be too soon to compare him with some of Arsenal’s best-ever Premier League defenders.

He added: “It’s hard to compare Saliba with previous Arsenal greats in his position because he hasn’t won any trophies yet. His performances have been so strong the last two years but great players always win trophies. We can’t compare him to [Sol] Campbell, [Tony] Adams or [Martin] Keown until he wins something for Arsenal.”

“I would be surprised if Raya keeps his spot at Arsenal”

While Chelsea’s first goal came from the penalty spot, the second was bizarre. Mudryk looped the ball over David Raya’s head from what appeared to be an attempted cross. There was some debate as to whether Mudryk meant it or not, but everyone agreed on Raya being at fault for his poor positioning.

It isn’t the first time Raya’s performances have come into question this season. The Spaniard also looked shaky in the Champions League defeat to Lens and the first half of the Premier League win over Man City.

Raya, signed on loan from Brentford in the summer, sat on the bench for the first few matches of the season but has since overtaken Aaron Ramsdale as Arteta’s first-choice goalkeeper.

Ramsdale wasn’t available for the draw against Chelsea, given leave following the birth of his child. But Arsenal fans at Stamford Bridge were chanting for the Englishman. Arteta has since come out in support of Raya, insisting errors are a part of football. But Petit believes Raya could lose his number-one spot, with Arteta claiming to encourage competition.

“The goalkeeping position is something special in the squad and the manager needs to be very careful about what you do with goalkeepers and how you treat them,” Petit said.

“I can understand Arteta and Arsenal, but the fact that Ramsdale is not playing and Raya has made mistakes that cost goals in recent games is a serious issue. The goal Raya conceded against Chelsea, his position was not good and he gave the ball away with a terrible pass, which he also did against Lens in the Champions League.

“If you want to have a competition between two goalkeepers, that means when one of them is making mistakes and not playing well, you have to give the other one the chance to play. Ramsdale has always played very well for Arsenal, so that means I would be surprised if Raya keeps his number-one position.”