Football News

“Invaluable” William Saliba compared to Arsenal Invincible after flawless start to the season

By Harry Edwards

Published: 11:03, 9 October 2023

Arsenal defender William Saliba has been compared to Invincibles member Sol Campbell due to the presence he commands in the Gunners’ defence.

Mikel Arteta’s side enter the October international break joint-top of the Premier League table and one of two teams still unbeaten in the top flight. The Gunners, who went so close to the title last season, are only behind rivals Tottenham on goals scored after both won this weekend.

Arsenal hosted the team that pipped them to the title last season at the Emirates on Sunday, a heavyweight clash many expected to give an early indication as to how the title race will unfold. The Gunners had lost their last 12 Premier League games against Man City, but that run came to an end thanks to Gabriel Martinelli’s 86th-minute strike.

Also crucial to the win was the fact that Arsenal had kept a Premier League clean sheet against Man City for the first time since January 2015, ending a run of 16 matches in which they conceded. At the heart of Arsenal’s defence was Saliba, who put in another phenomenal performance.

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The Frenchman was key to Arsenal’s defence last season and in the summer Gabriel Jesus remarked that the Gunners’ fall towards the end of the campaign, costing them the title, came due to Saliba’s injury.

So far this season, Saliba has played every minute for Arsenal in the Premier League, one of just two Gunners to be ever-present alongside Ben White, and one of 23 outfielders across the rest of the division.

Against Man City, Saliba won 100% of his duels, not committing a single foul or being dribbled past, as well as completing 97% of his passes. In fact, Saliba has not been successfully dribbled past by an opponent in his first eight Premier League appearances this season, committing just two fouls in that time.

Going back even further, of the 229 players that have attempted 50+ tackles in the Premier League since the start of last season, Saliba has been successfully dribbled past the fewest times. Only Son Heung-min (Arsenal 3-1 Spurs), Gonçalo Guedes (Wolves 0-2 Arsenal) and Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton 1-0 Arsenal) have achieved the feat.

Using the same criteria, only Ezri Konsa (81.2%) and Ethan Pinnock (81%) have a greater true tackle success rate than William Saliba’s 78.4%.

“Once again the steadying influence of William Saliba in defence for the Gunners is proving invaluable,” Garth Crooks wrote when picking Saliba for his Team of the Week.

“The atmosphere at Emirates Stadium was as tense as I have known it against Manchester City and yet Saliba was as cool as ice and appeared to handle Erling Haaland without any trouble at all.

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“I rate Saliba as highly as I rated Sol Campbell. The France international has the same kind of presence in defence as the former England man and is just as quick.

“What no one can legislate for is whether Saliba can remain fit. It’s highly unlikely he can go an entire season without some sort of injury and if his fitness does falter can the Gunners survive without him? Should Saliba get injured and Arsenal find that they can survive without him, then they must really fancy their chances of lifting the title.”

It is worth noting that Saliba has pulled out of France’s squad for the upcoming international fixtures, with an injury in his “right big toe”.

In his first season with Arsenal, Campbell won the Premier League, losing just two of his 31 games that season. The Gunners then finished second in 2002/03 before completing the 2003/04 campaign without losing a single league game. During that time, Campbell set the Premier League record for the longest unbeaten run in the competition for a player, an incredible 56 games between 30 November 2002 and 24 October 2004.

Saliba has won 27 of his 35 games in the Premier League, losing just three times. His 77.1% win percentage is the highest of any non-Man City player to make 30+ appearances since the start of last season, and the fifth-best overall. The Frenchman played in the 3-1 home defeat against Man City in February 2023 but has not lost a Premier League game since.

The 1-0 revenge win against Pep Guardiola’s side extended his unbeaten run in the competition to 13 games. Just the 43 more needed to equal Campbell’s incredible record, then. But Saliba has the tools to give it a good go.

Finally, it’s worth remembering that Sol Campbell is the only Arsenal player to score in a Champions League final. Imagine if Saliba joins that club, too.